The scale and severity of prenatal damage by the Zika virus are far worse than past birth defects associated with microcephaly, a condition characterized by a small head and brain abnormalities. Scans, imaging and autopsies show that Zika eats away at the fetal brain. It shrinks or destroys lobes that control thought, vision and other basic functions. It prevents parts of the brain not yet formed from developing.
“These aren’t just microcephaly, like a slightly small head. The brain structure is very abnormal,” said Jeanne Sheffield, director of maternal-fetal medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who has been counseling pregnant women about microcephaly for two decades. …
Brazil is now bracing for a second stage of the 6-month-old crisis: Caring for infants with a wide range of disabilities. Experts have begun calling the constellation of maladies linked to the virus Congenital Zika Syndrome—to describe the babies born with disabilities more severe than in textbook microcephaly cases. Often, liquid fills the spaces where there is no brain tissue.
“There are areas of the brain that aren’t even formed,” said Janeusa Primo Chagas, head of neuropediatrics at the hospital operated by Sister Dulce, a philanthropic organization, where Dr. Paschoal also works.