Microcephaly is a neurodevelopmental disorder where (in most cases) the baby’s head circumference is smaller than normal (more than 2 standard deviations below the mean for the baby’s age and sex) and is associated with incomplete brain development. This can be deadly if the brain is so underdeveloped that vital, life functions can’t be regulated. Children with microcephaly often have developmental issues, although some have normal intelligence and development. However there may be complications (depending on the cause and severity of the case), including hyperactivity, seizures, mental development problems, dwarfism, coordination and balance issues or developmental delay.

There’s an unconfirmed, but suspected link between Zika Virus and microcephaly, because as there’s been a rise in Zika cases in Brazil, there’s also been a rise of cases of microcephaly. Zika is mainly transmitted through the Aedes mosquito (which can also spread dengue and yellow fever). Zika virus isn’t usually considered very harmful apart from to pregnant women, or those thinking of becoming pregnant and only about 1 in 5 of those with the virus show symptoms. Symptoms include fever, rashes, headaches and conjunctivitis and they usually only last about a week.

During the Zika outbreak, women in Brazil have been advised to delay getting pregnant for the next few years and women thinking of getting pregnant have been advised against traveling in Zika affected areas, as there is no known cure for the virus. Some say we are at least 3 years away from finding one, and some scientists say we at least 10 years away from a vaccine.

Other causes of Microcephaly also include Craniosynostosis (The premature fusing of the joints between the bony plates that form the infant’s skull and keeps the brain from growing), Infections of the foetus during pregnancy. (e.g toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, rubella and chicken pox), Down syndrome and other conditions caused by chromosomal abnormalities, exposure to drugs, alcohol or certain toxic chemicals in the womb, cerebral anoxia (decreased oxygen to the foetal brain due to complications during pregnancy and delivery), severe malnutrition and uncontrolled phenylketonuria (PKU), in the mother. (PKU is a birth defect that hampers the body’s ability to break down the amino acid phenylalanine).

Microcephaly is usually detected at birth or at baby check-ups. To determine whether a child has microcephaly or not, the baby’s head circumference will be measured and compared to a growth chart and growth will be tracked. Family history and parents’ head sizes may also be checked. In some cases a CT scan or MRI and blood tests may be used to help determine the cause of any development issues.

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