The fight against the Zika virus has been well underway for quite some time now, with several vaccines in trial stages and research that reveals eye-opening findings making news regularly. It’s been widely reported that Zika is especially threatening to pregnant women, as the the virus has been linked to devastating birth defects among newborns whose mothers were infected during their pregnancy. Health officials say the risk of infection is highest during that first trimester, which makes sense because the beginning of pregnancy is the most delicate and vulnerable time. But, once you pass those first three months, lots of things change, with fewer moments of morning sickness and the risk of miscarriage substantially decreasing as well. So is Zika dangerous in your third trimester? Unfortunately, despite what you might think, studies and research have found that the mosquito-borne illness is still a risk to expecting moms at any stage of their pregnancy, even in the last few months.
A study published back in August in The Lancet, a U.K. based medical journal, found alarming evidence that Zika can still be the source of brain defects, such as microcephaly, or unusually small heads, and underdeveloped brains, late in a woman’s pregnancy. The study suggested that screening only for microcephaly isn’t enough to detect all birth defects that are ultimately related to the virus.
The paper’s authors note that simply measuring the size of the baby’s head can be misleading. The baby may look normal, but they may have other health problems from the virus, such as incomplete brain development, hearing loss, vision problems, or other health issues that would be unnoticeable in a newborn.
“Such children would be born with normal sized heads as cranial growth largely takes place up to 30 weeks, but yet present important brain damage,” the study’s authors wrote. “In view of the huge interest in the epidemic, we believe that under-reporting of microcephaly cases is rare, but newborn babies affected late in pregnancy might fail to be reported as their heads will be in the normal range.”
Sadly, there does not seem to be a safe time during the nine months of pregnancy when a baby is completely safe from Zika, even though experts believe that the first trimester is the most dangerous, as that’s when a fetus’ organs first begin developing. But, as recent research shows, the virus is still quite dangerous to an unborn baby later on as well.
“There is no question,” the authors concluded in the paper, “that just as our review shows, that most suspected cases ended up being normal newborn babies with small heads, focusing on microcephaly alone will underestimate the true magnitude of this major epidemic.”
There’s still so much that needs to be learned about the virus, and while the latest news isn’t positive, it does provide more insight that will be used for future research. Although there is no vaccine or medication available to treat Zika at the moment, scientists and researchers are working tirelessly to towards the next medical miracle to treat this worldwide epidemic.