New Brain Scans Show Devastating Effects of Zika Virus

Written by - Reviewed by Consumer Health Digest Team

Published: Sep 6, 2016 | Last Updated: Mar 15, 2019

Brain Scans Show Severe Effects of Zika Virus

Zika virus was first identified in Uganda back in 1947. The virus is transmitted by the same type of mosquito that carries yellow fever, dengue fever, and chikungunya virus. The virus is particularly harmful to pregnant women as it’s associated with a wide array of effects on the baby. The latest brain scans showed the full range of devastating effects of this virus on the fetal brain. Keep reading to find out more.

What did Scans Show?

Researchers at the Division of Diagnostic Imaging and Radiology at Children’s National Health System in Washington DC conducted a study to document the imaging findings linked with congenital Zika virus infection as found in patients in Brazil. For the purpose of the survey, the team of scientists evaluated scans of infants and fetuses with suspected Zika infection. They assessed imaging studies of 31 fetuses in 30 pregnant women and 45 neonates as well as additional 14 neonates that were enrolled postnatally.

The medical journal Radiology published results of the study with the following key findings:

  • In addition to microcephaly, brain scans showed severe abnormalities in 94% of infants
  • The virus seems to attack the fetus directly. In fact, these brain abnormalities aren’t associated with other infections
  • Severe defects are found in the corpus callosum, which is the thick bundle of nerves connecting the two halves of the brain. Irregularities in this region have a tremendous potential to cause various neurological disorders
  • Most babies had calcium deposits throughout the brain. These deposits formed in the spot where the gray matter on the outer portion of the brain connects with the white matter located within the inner part of the brain
  • Some babies had abnormalities of the eyes
  • Ventriculomegaly or enlargement of the fluid in the brain was also present in 94% of the babies

Researchers also discovered that in some babies, the enlarged ventricles made up for the missing brain tissue. This way, the baby’s head wasn’t abnormally small as it is in infants affected by microcephaly. However, this is an alarming sign because it indicates that even though fetus appears healthy on the ultrasound, the chances are high it could be affected by birth defects and other abnormalities caused by the virus.

The study itself and brain scans showed with it are highly important for both scientists, radiologists, and healthcare providers. These findings promote the importance of evaluating pregnant women affected by Zika more thoroughly.

Things to know about Zika

  • Although the virus primarily spreads through the mosquito bite, it’s also possible to get it through sex
  • The best way to prevent Zika virus is to avoid mosquito bites. You can do so by wearing long-sleeved shirts, using insect repellent, remove standing water around your home, and so on
  • Pregnant women shouldn’t travel to regions and countries known for Zika outbreak
  • Returning travelers infected with the virus can spread Zika through mosquito bites. How? It’s because during the first week of infection, the virus is found in a person’s blood stream and it can pass from the affected individual onto mosquito. Then, mosquito transfers it onto another person

Did you know?

After the virus was first identified in 1947, the outbreaks didn’t leave the territory of Africa until 2007. After that, it spread to the South Pacific region.


Although quite prevalent, there’s limited data about Zika virus mostly because the studies are still ongoing. The latest study analyzed brain scans of infants and fetuses affected by the virus and discovered that microcephaly isn’t the only consequence of infection. In fact, a broad range of abnormalities affects the baby’s brain. These findings emphasize the importance of more thorough assessments of pregnant women infected by Zika.

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