Dec. 13 (UPI) -- About 15 percent of infants exposed to the Zika virus before they were born had serious defects within the first 18 months, a study says.
A team led by researchers at UCLA studied infants exposed to the Zika virus during pregnancy and found that between 12 and 18 months, 6.25 percent had eye abnormalities, 12.2 percent had hearing problems and nearly 12 percent had severe delays in language, motor skills or cognitive function.
The study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that, overall, 14.5 percent of children exposed to the virus had at least one abnormality.
The researchers used transfontanelle cerebral ultrasound, computerized tomography or magnetic resonance imaging; an eye exam; a screening known as Bayley III to measure the infants cognitive, language and motor skills; and a brainstem evoked audiometry test to diagnose hearing loss in newborns and young children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that pregnant mothers infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy can give birth to babies with microcephaly, which partially collapses the skull. Other abnormalities include scarring to the back of the eye, a limited range of motion in the joints and decreased brain tissue with a specific pattern of brain damage.
Cases of the mosquito-borne illness got on the public radar in September 2015, when the Ministry of Health in Brazil declared a health emergency after noticing an unusual amount of microcephaly diagnosis in newborns.
A 2017 study in Brazil found that babies between 19 and 24 months old with the Zika virus had problems sitting independently, feeding and sleeping, and some experience seizures.
As of November, the CDC confirmed nearly 2,500 cases of pregnant women with any laboratory evidence of possible Zika virus infection.
Another recent study suggests parents getting MRI or ultrasound tests to detect Zika-related brain abnormalities in infants.
While Zika can permanently compromise cognitive skills for some infants, others rebound from the disease's effects. In fact, 16 percent of the newborns with abnormal brain images went on to have normal cognitive, language and motor skills by between 12 to 18 months.
Researchers recommend the use of brain imaging to help forecast neurodevelopmental issues in babies.