New studies report that the infamous Zika virus not only causes microcephaly, but it attacks baby’s brain cells, so the range of problems associated with the damage posed by the disease is much wider than thought. Also, South American specialists discovered that the common symptoms are not always present. In other words, a pregnant woman could be infected with the virus but totally oblivious to it.

Moreover, newborns may not have the common visible signs and nevertheless, still have brain damage. This has doctors concerned as it could mean there are a lot of children thought to be perfectly alright who are going to develop problems with age.

A researcher looks at Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, capable of spreading the Zika virus, at a lab in the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Jan. 8, 2016. Image courtesy of TIME

A group of scientists from Manhattan wanted further to understand the relationship between microcephaly and Zika. The author of the study was Roosecelis Martines, from the Infectious Diseases Pathology Branch, Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases in Atlanta.

The research team analyzed the several tissues from babies who were known to have developed microcephaly as a consequence of Zika. Also, the specialists tested the tissue from miscarried infants and others that died shortly after birth. According to the paper, the antigen, characteristic from the virus, was present in all the tested tissue. Also, the analysis found persistent occurrences of brain damage which resulted in problems different than microcephaly. As a result, the researchers concluded that the virus directly attacks the brain, so the problems caused by the virus will vary depending on what part of the cortex was affected.

“These findings provide strong evidence of a link between Zika virus infection and different congenital central nervous system malformations, including microcephaly as well as arthrogryposis and spontaneous abortions,” Dr. Martines said in the paper.

It could be tough to detect with the conventional methods

A group of scientists funded by the Ministry of Health of Brazil discovered that not all the people that have been diagnosed with Zika present the common symptoms. It might be a practical thing for someone to not develop the rash and pains, but the situation is very different for newborn babies.

Usually, a child that has been affected by the disease during pregnancy will show deformation in the brain or genitals. That is why doctors have labeled healthy to children that are born without any visible sign, even though the mother was infected with the virus during pregnancy. However, Giovanny V França and a group of Brazilian specialists wanted to know that was a safe assumption.

To do so, the scientists used a data pool, collected by other researchers since the outbreak of the disease in 2015 until February 2016. The database included the information of 1501 live-born infants, and it also included the presence of any antigen or infectious pathogen. The team found that in spite of the absence of visible signs, many children were affected by the virus. This was particularly more common when the mother was infected in the third trimester but didn´t presented the rash.

“Zika virus congenital syndrome is a new teratogenic disease. Because many definite or probable cases present normal head circumference values and their mothers do not report having a rash, screening criteria must be revised in order to detect all affected newborn babies,” the paper reads.

This triggered the alarms in countries like Brazil, Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries where the disease found its nest. They call for all pregnant women to go through screening as long as all the new born babies.

Authorities in the United States could take similar measures

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that by June 23, there were seven cases of microcephaly, and five other cases were the virus interrupted the pregnancy. Also, the federal agency created the U.S. Zika pregnancy registry in the first days of June.

The record includes the cases confirmed by laboratories all across the country along others that are very likely. As of now, the commission is monitoring 265 pregnant women who are known to have the virus. However, if the studies are right, and many cases require a strict screening, these numbers could lack efficiency. This could lead to hospitals and clinics in the United States to start promoting more screenings on both pregnant women and newborn children regardless the presence of Zika symptoms.

Accordingly, the Congress has been considering creating a special commission. It was one of the things the members of the house were discussing when the Democrat representatives brought gun control to the table ending up in a protest inside the Capitol. In this regard, both Democrats and Republicans found common ground and are asking the Congress to at least fund research centers.

Source: The Lancet