Brazil – Geneticist Mayana Zatz of the University of Sao Paulo is conducting a study to find out why one Zika twin developed microcephaly and the other didn’t. Jacqueline Silva de Oliveira is the mother of Lucas and Laura. The baby girl has microcephaly associated with Zika and can’t breastfeed because she lacks the ability to hold up her small head adequately.
De Oliveira opened up about the worry about the future. The little Laura is half her brother’s size, and her cries seem to struggle from her tiny throat. Her mother told CNN that she and her husband think about the fact that their girl might eventually need a wheelchair to move around the house. However, she said they try to live in the moment with Laura, who is silent and often asleep.
De Oliveira’s husband had high symptoms of Zika and although she eventually developed a rash she thought it was just allergies because it didn’t last longer than a day, which is why she didn’t bother to get tested. But she did go to the doctor and was recommended to go to the hospital. By the time the doctor saw her, she was already feeling sick and didn’t follow his advice because the hospital was very far away.
Twins can help free other babies of the abnormalities caused by Zika
Lucas and Laura are not the only twins who are part of a study on Zika’s link to microcephaly. Other five sets of Brazilian twins are helping researchers find answers to the many questions triggered by the outbreak of the virus. One hypothesis is that one twin’s genes make it virus-resistant while the other is more vulnerable to it. However, Zatz believes that one twin is genetically more susceptible to the virus rather than the other being better able to resist it, according to the report by CNN.
By discovering the genetic difference among twins, researchers can develop a genetic test so pregnant women can be aware of the risk they face by having their babies. Peggy Honein, co-leader of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Birth Defects Task Force for the Zika response, said the primary goals are to detect the absolute risk of a fetus developing an abnormally small head and pinpoint the period of higher risk of exposure to the virus during pregnancy.
At first, de Oliveira was unsure about taking part in the study but soon knew her contribution would make a difference.
The principal deputy director of the CDC remarked in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that it was “too soon” to issue recommendations to women about Zika-associated birth defects because there not enough scientific knowledge to do so, as Breitbart.com reported.
“We’ve had examples where the ultrasounds were looking okay but the baby wasn’t okay and others where there seemed to be problems and then the baby turned out to be okay,” noted Rear Adm. Anne Schuchat, M.D, according to Breitbart. “I think it’s too soon for us to have a very confident set of information to counsel women with about just what to expect and how to plan.”
In Sao Paulo, Zatz says that the research they are doing will take time because they are studying a virus that poses a unique challenge. She noted that researchers are under a lot of pressure because women, who are the most affected group, want many questions which health experts are still unable to answer.
Doctors know that not every woman infected with Zika will have a newborn with microcephaly, but they also lack the ability to provide an accurate answer to the question of the risk women face.
Dr. Jeanne Sheffield, a Johns Hopkins Hospital expert in pregnancy and infectious disease, said during a Capitol Hill briefing that specialists don’t know how to protect women because it’s unclear how many of them will test positive for the virus over the course of their pregnancy as reported by CNS News.
They also are unable to tell how many babies delivered by an infected woman will develop microcephaly. This issue is especially tricky because kids tend to look perfect at birth, but health experts can’t tell whether they will be developmentally delayed in the future.
A research team who recently conducted a study in Rio de Janeiro found that about 30 percent of pregnant women who had tested positive for the virus had ultrasounds showing abnormalities, as reported by CNN. In contrast, Honein pointed out that a separate study had revealed that only 1 percent of newborns delivered by Zika-infected mothers showed complications. She thinks the real risk might lie in between.
The National Institutes of Health announced in late June that it would conduct a large-scale study by monitoring around 10,000 pregnant women living in Brazil, Puerto Rico, Colombia and other countries at high risk. They hope to find clues about the effects of the virus on pregnancy and newborns.
The CDC reported that as of June 16, the number of Zika-infected pregnant women in the continental United States had increased to 265 cases, according to CNN.