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Special Communication
May 2017

Bridging Knowledge Gaps to Understand How Zika Virus Exposure and Infection Affect Child Development

Author Affiliations
  • 1Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bethesda, Maryland
JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(5):478-485. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.0002

Importance  The Zika virus (ZIKV) epidemic has profoundly affected the lives of children and families across the Americas. As the number of children born with ZIKV-related complications continues to grow, the long-term developmental trajectory for these children and the effect on their families remains largely unknown. In September 2016, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and partner National Institutes of Health institutes convened a workshop to develop a research agenda to improve the evaluation, monitoring, and management of neonates, infants, or children affected by ZIKV and its complications. The agenda also aims to optimally address the prospective effect of ZIKV exposure on the developing child.

Observations  The full clinical spectrum of congenital ZIKV syndrome has yet to be elucidated. In addition to the well-described anatomic and neurologic manifestations, clinicians are now describing infants with exaggerated primitive reflexes, epilepsy, acquired hydrocephalus and microcephaly, neurodevelopmental delay, gastrointestinal motility problems, and respiratory complications, such as pneumonia. While we are still learning more about the myriad clinical presentations in these severely affected children, it is also paramount to address the larger proportion of ZIKV-exposed infants who are asymptomatic at birth but, we assume, may develop problems later in life. The available evidence for neurologic, neurodevelopmental, neurobehavioral, auditory, and vision assessments and management for infants with congenital ZIKV syndrome was critically evaluated. Lessons from other congenital infections provide valuable clues about the complexities of management and the optimal approaches for evaluating, treating, and caring for the children, which include engaging and involving parents and caregivers in their treatment.

Conclusions and Relevance  Rigorous research is key to improving the identification of ZIKV-infected mothers and babies. Research also is critical to increasing basic understanding of the neuropathogenesis of congenital ZIKV disease and of the spectrum of clinical presentations of ZIKV infection so that agents to prevent and treat this devastating disease can be rapidly developed and studied.

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