Is Zika Dangerous For Kids? It Probably Depends On The Age | KERA News

Is Zika Dangerous For Kids? It Probably Depends On The Age

Jun 12, 2017
Originally published on June 14, 2017 1:31 pm

Zika may have fallen from headlines, especially with everything going on in politics these days, but the threat remains.

And recommendations for pregnant women haven't changed: Pregnant women — and those trying to get pregnant — should not travel to places where the Zika virus is circulating.

It's just too risky because Zika can cause birth defects.

But what about babies? Or kids? Is it safe to travel with them?

"So we don't have tons of data on that particular question," says Dr. Neil Silverman, at the Center for Fetal Medicine in Los Angeles. But, he says, doctors can offer some recommendations based on what's known about how Zika damages developing brains.

The biggest concern is with infants.

"I would not take a small newborn — under 6 months — to a country at risk for Zika," Silverman says.

Several studies have shown that Zika can damage a fetus's brain in the third trimester. "Even when a mother is infected late in pregnancy, adverse outcomes can occur," Silverman says.

A newborn's brain, at least in terms of development, is similar to that of fetuses late in the third trimester.

The problem is that Zika attacks developing brain cells. They're called neural progenitor cells. And newborns' brains are filled with them, just like the brains of fetuses late in pregnancy.

"So I don't think any of us know quite yet what the break point is from being a newborn or a late pregnancy fetus in terms of Zika's risk," Silverman adds.

By about age 2, many of these developing brain cells are gone. "And the majority of brain development has already occurred," Silverman says.

So Zika's danger is likely reduced. "Kids older than 2 probably don't have any significantly higher risk than an adult who's not pregnant," Silverman says.

Several studies have supported this hypothesis. In particular, a study published in September followed 158 children, under age 18, with Zika.

In all instances, kids had similar symptoms as seen in adults — a rash, fever and joint pain. None of the children developed Guillain-Barre syndrome, which occurs rarely in Zika patients.

Two of the children were hospitalized. One was 4 years old, and the other was only 1 year old. All the children recovered with no apparent long-term damage.

So when traveling with kids above age 2, Zika doesn't really add more risks, especially if you take a few precautions, says Dr. Desiree LaBeaud, an infectious disease pediatrician at Stanford University, who studies mosquito-borne viruses.

"I have three beautiful children and I bring them all over the world with me," LaBeaud says. "I personally think the benefits of traveling with your kids and seeing the world is greater than the risk associated with Zika."

"But we do travel safe!" she exclaims.

That means protecting her kids from mosquito bites. She slathers repellent with DEET on their skin, treats clothes with permethrin and stays in places with screens in the windows.

"Children in general are quite resilient little beings," she says. "So instead of being a fearmonger, I like to tell people, 'A lot of this is in your control, and you can take precautions that will decrease your risk of acquiring any mosquito-borne infection."

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Zika virus may have fallen from the daily headlines. But the threat remains when you're traveling to some places. NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff has the latest information about keeping your family safe from Zika.

MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: The recommendations for pregnant women haven't changed. Pregnant women and those trying to get pregnant should not travel to places where Zika is circulating. Zika can cause birth defects, and it's too risky. But what about with kids or babies? Is it safe to travel with them?

NEIL SILVERMAN: So we don't have tons of data on that particular question, and it's a question we do get asked.

DOUCLEFF: That's Dr. Neil Silverman at the Center for Fetal Medicine in Los Angeles. He says the younger the child, the bigger the risk.

SILVERMAN: I would be a little concerned about taking a newborn under 6 months of age, for example, to one of these at-risk countries.

DOUCLEFF: Why? Because Zika can attack developing brain cells. Newborn babies have a lot of those. But kids older than age 2 don't. Their brains are more like adults.

SILVERMAN: Those kids probably don't have any significantly higher risks than an adult who's not pregnant.

DOUCLEFF: So traveling with kids above age 2 is unlikely to be a problem. Desiree LaBeaud, a pediatrician at Stanford University, agrees.

DESIREE LABEAUD: I have three beautiful children. And I bring them all over the world with me because I personally think the benefits of traveling with your kids and seeing the world is greater than the risk.

DOUCLEFF: But LaBeaud does protect her kids from all mosquito-borne diseases. That means using DEET on skin and permethrin on clothes. Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KILN'S "FLYCATCHER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.