When you think of Zika-related birth defects, you most likely think of microcephaly, babies with abnormally small heads and brain damage. But the reality of the Zika virus includes a much larger list of birth defects than previously known. According to Scientific American, research to be presented next week at a conference in San Antonio, TX, "suggests that serious joint problems, seizures, vision impairment, trouble feeding, and persistent crying can be added to the list of risks from Zika exposure in the womb." That means that even when babies are born without microcephaly and appear normal at birth, they can still go on to experience a wide range of health issues, such as seizures and developmental delays that might not become apparent until months after birth.
The findings come after a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which reported that Zika-infected women who show no symptoms can still give birth to babies with birth defects. In that study, 29% of pregnant women who tested positive for Zika had fetuses with abnormalities already apparent via ultrasound. However, that same study suggested that women infected with Zika in their third trimester have virtually no chance of giving birth to babies with birth defects.
Researchers say that both studies seem to hint that mothers infected with Zika late in their pregnancies tended to have babies with relatively less serious side effects. However, more research is needed to determine the full effects of Zika.