In the study, published in the journal Radiology, the researchers looked at brain scans of 45 babies and fetuses in Brazil who were infected with Zika. They report that while microcephaly is one of the well-known complications associated with the virus, they also observed several other brain abnormalities like gray- and white-matter loss, issues with the brain stem and fluid buildup.
The researchers report that the Zika virus appears to be most severe when it is transmitted by the mother to her fetus during the first trimester of pregnancy. Babies with microcephaly have underdeveloped brains and can also have other health complications like vision and joint problems. The researchers report that some babies may not have microcephaly but there is still brain damage.
“It’s not just the small brain, it’s that there’s a lot more damage,” study author Dr. Deborah Levine, a professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, told the New York Times. “The abnormalities that we see in the brain suggest a very early disruption of the brain development process.”
It's unclear what health impacts the damage will have on infants as they age.
The U.S. currently recommends that pregnant women be evaluated for potential Zika-virus exposure. "More than one ultrasound or MRI scan in pregnancy may be needed to assess the growth and development abnormalities of the brain," said Levine in a statement about the research.