It is fairly well-established that Zika threatens pregnant women and their fetuses through devastating birth defects. In the event of an infection, for instance, the placenta is unable to protect the fetus — instead of nourishing the growing embryo, it seems to support the infection’s growth and journey into the developing brain.
Recently, the birth defects of six babies and fetuses in the U.S. were linked to Zika, with authorities reporting that the mothers were infected during their pregnancy.
How does the virus affect babies after they are born, as well as older kids? Is it an immediate danger to them?
Known Zika Dangers
Among adults, Zika is known to cause only mild symptoms, such as a rash, fever, red eyes, or joint pain — all of which resolve on their own within a week, with some not exhibited by many people at all. This, said Stanford pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. David Vu, is so far what doctors see in babies and older children.
“There haven’t been any reports that suggest Zika causes more severe symptoms in children or infants,” Vu told NPR, adding that research, however, is only just beginning and any long-term impact is not yet determined.
Zika, too, does not appear to attack kids’ brains like it does on fetuses', posing “little to no threat” to the nervous system of babies and kids when it strikes after birth, explained pediatric neurologist Dr. James Bale.
Bale added that while the virus can cause brain infections that seems to rarely take place in kids, such as encephalitis.
The neurological condition Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), of which Zika is known to increase risk, is also seen less likely to afflict babies and kids. The majority of patients with Zika-linked GBS are adults.
GBS can lead to paralysis from weeks to months, sometimes even permanently. Zika fuels one’s risk of getting GBS around fivefold, from an estimated 1 in 67,000 to around 1 in 14,000.
How To Protect the Young Ones
Geography is also key in examining children’s risks from Zika. Most parts of the country do not harbor the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits the virus, and there is an extremely low likelihood of the virus appearing in such places.
Here are some expert tips for parents to shield their kids from the infection:
• Take a look at this CDC map showing whether a community has the mosquito.
• Call the local mosquito control office and inquire about any detected Aedes aegypti near where you live. Places along the Gulf Coast, as well as sections of Texas and Florida have seen this mosquito’s presence, so residents must be extra vigilant.
• Use a mosquito net over strollers.
• Keep children’s skin protected through a mosquito repellent, in lieu of long sleeves and pants this summer. A compound in the product called picaridin lasts for about 10 hours and is considered less toxic than the usual DEET. If going for DEET sprays, choose one with 20 to 30 percent content.
• If suspected to have Zika, let the child rest and offer enough fluids. Avoid giving him or her aspiring and consult a doctor.