Via NPR's Shots blog: Long-Term Impact Of Zika Virus In Puerto Rico Unknown : Shots. Excerpt:
Dr. Alberto de la Vega has seen one-fifth of the pregnant women on the island who tested positive for Zika. "Among those patients we've had at least 14 or 15 confirmed cases in which severe brain damage, caused by the Zika virus, has occurred," he says.
Some of those cases included microcephaly.
For babies born to mothers infected in the first trimester, de la Vega says the risk of brain damage is between two and four percent. But he's seeing many other problems in his patients infected with Zika, including mothers going into premature labor and a higher number of miscarriages.
What worries him most is that even in cases where babies appear normal, their brains show lagging growth. "What does that mean in terms of future development? No one has an idea," he says. "If you have a condition that can cause severe brain damage, it's not going to be an either-or situation. There has to be a spectrum of problems that are yet to be defined."
De la Vega and other doctors are also concerned about young children who contract Zika after birth, at a time when their brains are still actively developing. Puerto Rico's Health Department plans to monitor these children for three to five years.
Many are being seen at the University of Puerto Rico by Dr. Carmen Zorrilla. She runs the Maternal Infant Studies Center at the University of Puerto Rico hospital, which was established 30 years ago to help women living with HIV.
Zika she says, presents some of the same challenges for pregnant women.
Zorrilla also compares the impact of Zika with that of rubella, which caused birth defects in tens of thousands of children in the U.S. until a vaccine was discovered in the late 1960s.
Years later, Zorrilla says, researchers checked back with adults who had been born to mothers infected with rubella but who appeared normal at birth. "They found an increased rate of schizophrenia and bipolar disorders in these people who were exposed to rubella while they were in utero," she says. "So, it's not until 20 years from now that we might say, 'Oh, Zika caused this or that.'"