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Researchers are sounding a new even more dire warning today about the possible threat the Zika virus poses to fetuses. A study suggests Zika is causing more complications among developing babies than had been thought before. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein reports.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Until now, the big worry about Zika is that it's causing a birth defect known as microcephaly. These babies have shrunken heads and badly-damaged brains, but doctors like Karin Nielsen-Saines at UCLA have been worried that Zika could be causing all kinds of other problems.
KARIN NIELSEN-SAINES: That microcephaly was just, like, the tip of the iceberg.
STEIN: So Nielsen-Saines started studying pregnant women who caught Zika in Rio de Janeiro. Today, she's reporting what she found out about the first 42 women. First of all, their ultrasounds spotted something wrong - seriously wrong - with one-third of the fetuses.
NIELSEN-SAINES: There seems to be, like, a whole spectrum of conditions that are related to this, not only microcephaly. Microcephaly is just one isolated finding. There's more.
STEIN: For example, many are just not growing normally. Some have other kinds of brain damage. The researchers aren't seeing anything like this when they look at pregnant women who don't have Zika. And the problems on the ultrasounds are becoming clearer as the babies are being born.
NIELSEN-SAINES: Two of the children have lesions in their retina, which means that they might be blind.
STEIN: Some maybe deaf. Two are really small, which means they'll have lots of complications - one is microcephaly and some aren't even making it.
NIELSEN-SAINES: We had two miscarriages early on, but then we had another two miscarriages - babies who died two weeks before being born.
STEIN: Taken together, Nielsen-Saines says the outlook is disturbing.
NIELSEN-SAINES: It makes a very strong case for Zika being the cause of all these pregnancy outcomes that are not very good.
STEIN: Now, Nielsen-Saines cautions that the study is small and needs to be confirmed by a lot more follow-up. But other experts say this is the strongest evidence yet of the danger Zika poses to pregnant women. Anthony Fauci is the top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health.
ANTHONY FAUCI: The take-home message is that this is another important addition to the growing evidence that seems to now be quite compelling of the relationship between infection of a pregnant woman and the development of congenital abnormalities.
STEIN: And Albert Ko of Yale University says it's foreboding given the scope of the Zika outbreak.
ALBERT KO: Millions are being affected as the epidemic is spread throughout the Americas, and 30 percent of these women infected have these severe outcomes. So yes, I think this is very disturbing.
STEIN: These researchers and others plan to follow up with a lot more women for a lot longer to find out just how much of a threat Zika poses during pregnancy. Rob Stein, NPR News.
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