Pregnant Women May Be Able To Get Zika Answers Earlier : Goats and Soda Using a battery of advance tests, doctors at Johns Hopkins were able to see signs of brain damage in a fetus that standard tests had missed.
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Pregnant Women May Be Able To Get Answers About Zika Earlier

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Pregnant Women May Be Able To Get Answers About Zika Earlier

Pregnant Women May Be Able To Get Answers About Zika Earlier

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some other news now - scientists are reporting a new way to detect brain damage in fetuses infected with the Zika virus. Women often have to wait months and months to find out if their babies will have birth defects. As NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff reports, a new study shows how some women may be able to find out sooner.

MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: The case involves a 33-year-old pregnant woman. She was on vacation in Guatemala, and when she returned home to Washington, D.C., she got sick. Doctors confirmed it was Zika and sent her for an ultrasound. That's the standard test doctors use to diagnose microcephaly, a condition where babies are born with extremely small heads. It's been associated with Zika. The fetus looked normal, but her doctors decided to send her for a whole battery of tests including an MRI of the fetus's brain. The good news quickly vanished.

RITA DRIGGERS: There were severe anomalies within the head that the brain was much smaller than it should have been. And there were system structures that appeared to be absent within the brain as well.

DOUCLEFF: That's Dr. Rita Driggers at Johns Hopkins University. She says extra testing like MRIs give a more complete picture of the fetus's brain. It may help doctors diagnose problems earlier in a pregnancy. The thing is, though, this won't help women in parts of Latin America where advanced tests aren't available. But Driggers and her team found something else that might. The virus lingered in the patient's blood for months after she got sick. In most people, it disappears in a week.

DRIGGERS: So what our case is suggesting is that if you're seeing the virus in the mom's blood for a longer period than the first week after symptoms, that perhaps what's going on is that the baby is actually infected.

DOUCLEFF: It could be more likely to develop brain damage. Driggers and her team published the study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Carla Janzen studies fetal maternal medicine at UCLA. She says the findings could lead to changes in the official guidelines for testing pregnant women for Zika if they're confirmed in more cases.

CARLA JANZEN: Guidelines should never be based on one case, but this is a completely new finding that would maybe shatter what we know so far.

DOUCLEFF: And with the Zika virus, we know so little right now, Janzen says, every bit of new information is precious. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.

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