CDC: Infants with Zika symptoms should get specialized care



Diagnostic testing of infants with suspected congenital Zika virus should include both immunoglobulin M (IgM) and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, according to initial recommendations from a work group of federal health officials and pediatric specialists.

The group also called for infants with Zika virus symptoms to be transferred to facilities with pediatric subspecialty services.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with pediatric specialists, reviewed the CDC’s existing guidelines for diagnosing, treating, and preventing Zika virus infections in both pregnant mothers and their infants during a 2-day meeting at the agency’s headquarters in Atlanta July 21-22.

Sumaia Villela/Agência Brasil/CC BY 3.0 BR

“We want to make sure in the evaluation of symptomatic infants that we’re opening up a thorough differential, and that people are thinking about other things, particularly as we know that some of these issues, especially in terms of diagnosis, may be complex,” said Wanda D. Barfield, MD, director of the division of reproductive health at the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Although final recommendations are forthcoming, the consensus of the work group is that diagnostic testing of infants with suspected congenital Zika virus infection should include IgM and PCR testing of cerebrospinal fluid, urine, saliva and other infant specimens.

Asymptomatic infants should continue to receive care consistent with that of a normal, newborn infant, along with comprehensive physical exams, hearing tests, and head ultrasounds.

Symptomatic infants, however, should undergo different clinical and laboratory evaluations. Any symptomatic infant should be transferred to a pediatric subspecialty facility, which would allow for more specific care and services than would a primary care office. These services would include: neonatal/pediatric intensive care; endocrinologists to treat hypothyroidism, hypoaldosteronism, and growth hormone deficiency; orthopedists to treat arthrogryposis; neurologists to perform neuroimaging and EEGs, and to treat microcephaly and seizures; and other specialists to handle infectious disease, pulmonology, genetics, and feeding issues. These facilities would also offer family and social support, including palliative care options.

Infants with anomalies associated with congenital Zika virus infection should see a primary care physician every month for “routine care and increased surveillance,” said Janet Cragan, MD, of the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disorders. These visits should include measurements of weight, length, and head circumference, and should continue through 6 months of age. After that, the frequency of visits can be reevaluated.

During subsequent visits, providers should continue to monitor the infant’s development, as certain abnormalities take longer to become evident. These include sleep issues, excessive irritability, seizures, and “subtle symptoms” such as infantile spasms.

“In terms of coordination of care, there was discussion about the need to close the loop [to] ensure that the needed testing and consultations are done, [and] that the primary physician obtain those results,” Dr. Cragan said.

Similar monitoring – though less complex and stringent – should be done for children with congenital Zika virus infection who do not exhibit abnormalities and may not be symptomatic, the work group recommended. In addition, outpatient care is another critical component in managing congenital Zika virus infections, particularly in children who display no abnormalities at birth. Specifically, hearing evaluations should be performed regularly, and if any abnormalities are found, children should be referred for repeat hearing evaluations.

“We’re talking about a group of infants that we have very little to no information about,” said Kate Russell, MD, of Duke University, Durham, N.C. “Our discussion revolved around what’s known about infants who do have apparent abnormalities and are symptomatic, and trying to infer from that what could be done for these infants with asymptomatic infections.”

Telemedicine is another potentially powerful tool that physicians can use, “particularly in areas where there is limited direct access to pediatric subspecialty care,” Dr. Cragan said. Examples include taking videos of an infant and sending them to a neurologist to determine if symptoms were consistent with Zika, or sharing audio of the crying of Zika-infected children in Brazil so that primary care physicians can compare that with their patients.

“This is an area of very new and growing research and literature, and so this is going to be a continuous process [to] make sure that the people who are going to be seeing these infants on the front line are aware of what’s known,” Dr. Russell said.

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