Study Finds Zika Causes Joint Deformities at Birth
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that identified in Uganda in 1947 for the very first time. People who are affected by this virus usually experience flu-like symptoms, and although the disease isn’t considered life-threatening, it can be quite dangerous mostly for pregnant women. Zika virus is associated with a broad range of birth defects usually affecting the brain, but the recent discovery showed that the virus could cause joint deformities as well.
Zika and joint deformities
Consequences of Zika virus are usually associated with microcephaly, a rare congenital disability wherein an infant has abnormally small skull, and other defects linked to a brain. Unfortunately, not much is known about other effects and, potentially, severe implications this virus has on babies. That’s why Vanessa van der Linden and a team of researchers at the Association for Assistance of Disabled Children conducted a study to describe the clinical, radiological, and electromyographic features in children with joint contractures or arthrogryposis associated with zika virus.
For the purpose of the study, scientists included seven children with arthrogryposis and a diagnosis of congenital infection probably caused by Zika virus during the microcephaly epidemic in Brazil. All children underwent orthopedic and neurological evaluations along with several other examinations such as radiography, CT, MRI, as well as high definition ultrasonography of the joints.
Results, published in the BMJ, showed that brain images of all seven children included into the research showed characteristics of congenital infection and arthrogryposis. The joint condition was present in the arms and legs of six children and the legs of one child. Furthermore, hip radiographs revealed bilateral dislocation in seven children, while three participants had a subluxation of the knee. It’s also important to mention that all children tested negative for the five other leading infectious causes of microcephaly such as HIV, syphilis, rubella, cytomegalovirus, and toxoplasmosis. Scientists didn’t reveal the severity of pain as well as methods of joint pain relief.
Brain images demonstrated that all children showed signs of brain calcification, a condition wherein calcium builds up in the brain. High definition scanning didn’t show signs of other joint deformities, according to the research team. The revelation led scientists to acknowledge that the arthrogryposis doesn’t result from abnormalities of the joints themselves, its origin is more likely neurogenic. This could mean that there is a chronic involvement of central and peripheral motor neurons leading to abnormalities as a result of fixed postures in the utero. They concluded the study explaining that congenital zika virus should be added to the differential diagnosis of congenital infections and arthrogryposis.
The research team doesn’t plan to stop here; they emphasize the importance of new studies on this subject with a larger number of participants. Their goal is to investigate the neurological abnormalities behind arthrogryposis. Orthopedic follow-up for children with this joint condition is recommended because they are at a higher risk of developing musculoskeletal deformities secondary to neurological impairment. It’s not clear whether children with this problem should receive any other form of therapy or treatment to relieve the pain, because dietary supplements like Instaflex although effective aren’t suitable for children.
What is arthrogryposis?
Arthrogryposis multiplex congenita is a Greek term meaning curved joints and refers to cases when a child is born with joint contractures. Children affected by this condition have a very limited range of motion, sometimes they’re “stuck” in one position. Muscles around the deformed joints are thin, weak, stiff, and in some cases missing.
Joint contractures usually develop in arms and legs, but they can also affect spine or jaw. Although rare and serious, this condition doesn’t happen on its own. It’s usually a result of other conditions such as amyoplasia, and according to the latest revelation – Zika virus. About 1 in 3000 children in the United States is born with arthrogryposis. The condition has a major potential to delay child’s development, but in most instances, children learn to move despite the problems they experience. In severe cases, this joint contracture affects the spine, impairs heart health, lungs, and other internal organs. Moreover, long-term joint misalignment could lead to the development of early or severe osteoarthritis. That’s a staggering information because arthritis types such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis have a significant impact on a patient’s quality of life.
The most common treatment for this condition includes:
Open reduction – surgery to return dislocated or misshapen joint to its proper place
Tenotomy – releases tight tendons
Osteotomy – cutting or realigning the bones above or below the affected joint
Cast and braces
It’s important to bear in mind that children can expect significant improvements after treatments for arthrogryposis.
The latest study showed that besides known effects of Zika, this virus could also play a role in the development of arthrogryposis in children. It’s a condition wherein children are born with joint contractures. These findings call for more studies on this topic to understand the relationship between two conditions in detail. Also, it’s necessary to carry out more studies on Zika virus and its effects because it is evident, there’s still a lot to learn about the disease.