The National Institutes of Health recently announced
that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has teamed up with a nonprofit foundation called FUNSALUD
to conduct a large natural history study that will take a closer look at “neurologic, neurodevelopmental, and clinical outcomes” pertaining to Zika virus in infants and young children residing in Guatemala. The NIH will provide funding for the study.
Researchers have already discovered that if a woman becomes infected with the Zika virus while she is pregnant it can have serious implications for the unborn fetus, such as the development of congenital Zika syndrome
which could lead to birth defects such as microcephaly. The NIAID study will focus on infants and children in Guatemala
who are infected postnatally
, however, rather than congenitally
. This is because although past research has suggested that Zika virus possesses the potential to impact early brain development, “the full spectrum of possible consequences” remains unknown.
“The natural history study of Zika among Guatemalan children promises to yield valuable insights into acute and longer-term outcomes of infection,” NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, MD, explained in the press release. “It is imperative that we understand the potential neurologic and neurodevelopmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in children infected in infancy and early childhood.”
According to the Pan American Health Organization
, in different parts of Guatemala, Zika virus transmission remains active, despite reports that the virus is no longer active in other regions, such as Puerto Rico
. A surveillance study “characterizing the incidence and pattern of Dengue virus in children in” southwestern Guatemala, conducted by the University of Colorado, also confirmed active transmission of the virus as well as high infection rates among “children with fever.”
This new study can have a positive impact on families living in rural Guatemala, a place that is fraught with poverty, in that it can provide access to an early Zika diagnosis. The researchers are looking for answers regarding whether the virus is capable of interfering “with the normal development of young children.” According to Antonio Bolaños, MD, medical director at the FUNSALUD clinic where the study will occur, “any Zika effect on neurodevelopment [of impoverished children in the country] will add burden to their futures.”
The researchers aim to enroll around 1200 infants and children (all under 5 years) in the study. In addition, they plan to include a cohort consisting of 300 children who were infected with Zika and/or Dengue virus postnatally. These children were also included in the University of Colorado’s surveillance study. They will also enroll a cohort of around 500 newborn babies who have not been infected with Zika virus, as well as these babies’ mothers and siblings. The cohort consisting of siblings will comprise about 400 children who are under 5 years of age.