BEIJING, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) -- Zika virus may cause hormone deficiencies that could lead to irreversible growth delay and memory impairment, a recent study by Chinese scientists has shown.
Zika virus infection during pregnancy is widely known for causing infants to be born with brain abnormalities such as microcephaly and other malformations. However, its effects on body growth, as well as the development of children with Zika virus infection after birth, are largely unknown.
Researchers from Beijing-based Capital Medical University found that Zika virus infection in mouse pups caused damage to the hypothalamus, a center that regulates the endocrine system, and reduced the production of many hormones that are crucial for body growth and development.
The experiment showed that body weight, length and bone density of the infected mice were significantly lower than those of normal mice. The learning abilities and spatial memory of the infected mice were also damaged.
According to Wang Peigang, one of the researchers, when the mouse pups were infected with Zika virus at birth, they suffered from dwarfism, growing slower than usual and maintaining a shorter body length through to adulthood.
"The good news is we found that growth hormone treatment could partially cure growth delay if it is administrated early," Wang said.
An Jing, another researcher, said long-term multidisciplinary follow-ups of Zika virus-infected infants and children is necessary.
"Unlike microcephaly, growth delay can't be noticed immediately when the baby is born. It takes time to appear and sometimes can be overlooked," An said.
The research on the potential impact of Zika virus on childhood development, which was published in the journal Cell Reports, will provide important references for future health policies.