In 2016, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency due to an alarming increase in Brazilian babies born with microcephaly, associated with the Zika virus. While the Zika virus remains a concern, it is essential to recognize that microcephaly is not exclusive to Brazil and viruses are not the sole culprits.
Though the Zika virus garnered international attention, microcephaly continues to affect infants globally. In the United States, approximately 25,000 infants are diagnosed with microcephaly each year. This condition, characterized by a smaller-than-normal head circumference, can be present at birth or develop in the early years of a child’s life.
Beyond viral infections, microcephaly has various causes. Genetic abnormalities affecting the growth of the cerebral cortex, or gray matter, during fetal development are common culprits. Additionally, maternal factors play a role. Maternal drug and alcohol abuse, exposure to certain toxic chemicals, infections like cytomegalovirus (CMV), rubella, or varicella virus, and untreated phenylketonuria (PKU) or severe maternal malnutrition during pregnancy can contribute to microcephaly.
Microcephaly presents challenges without a cure or clear prognosis. While 15 percent of affected children show no mental deficits, others may experience mild to severe disabilities. Problems can include impaired cognitive development, delays in speech and motor skills, facial distortions, dwarfism, hyperactivity, seizures, coordination and balance issues, and other neurological abnormalities.
Children born with microcephaly require ongoing examinations and diagnostic testing as problems manifest during development. Regular monitoring is crucial to identify and address emerging issues promptly.
Microcephaly remains a complex concern with diverse causes beyond viral infections. Acknowledging the various factors contributing to this condition is essential for comprehensive understanding and effective healthcare. Ongoing research, monitoring, and support are crucial to improving outcomes for children affected by microcephaly, emphasizing the need for a nuanced approach beyond the context of specific outbreaks.