The Zika virus doesn’t seem to hit children any harder than it does adults, government researchers said Friday.
But the virus has put at least two small children into the hospital and doctors need to be on the lookout for neurological side-effects, the team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The news may be reassuring to parents, who have been asking how Zika impacts children. The infection is usually not serious in adults, but it causes severe and often catastrophic defects in unborn babies.
The CDC’s Dr. Alyson Goodman and colleagues looked at the cases of the first 158 children reported with Zika infections in the U.S.
“This series of 158 children with postnatally acquired Zika virus disease corroborates previously published reports suggesting that the clinical course of Zika virus disease is typically mild in children, as it is in adults,” they wrote in their report.
“In this case series, only two children were hospitalized, and no deaths occurred.”
Zika is sweeping across the Americas, and Florida is fighting dozens of cases. Doctors say Zika seems to cause mild symptoms in most people who get it and many don’t even know they’re infected. The most characteristic symptom that people notice is a rash. Zika also causes headache, body aches, pinkeye and fever.
“The symptoms most frequently reported among children with Zika virus disease are common to many childhood illnesses,” Goodman’s team wrote.
Many cases have likely not been reported, the CDC said.
Among the 158 patients confirmed and tested, none had the most serious symptoms Zika can cause, such as meningitis, encephalitis or Guillain-Barré syndrome.
“Two (1 percent) children were hospitalized: one child, aged 4 years, was hospitalized for 3 days because of fever, cough, and poor oral intake, and a second child, aged 1 year, was hospitalized overnight for cough and rash,” Goodman’s team wrote.
“Five (3 percent) patients were pregnant, all of whom were aged 16–17 years."
Related: Zika Virus Affected Woman's Memory
All the kids contracted Zika while out of the country. “The places most frequently visited were the Dominican Republic (39 patients) Puerto Rico (26), Honduras (17), Nicaragua (17) and Jamaica (14),” the report reads.
This all fits in with what’s been reported from other countries. “Severe disease following Zika virus infection in children has rarely been reported,” the CDC team wrote.
The CDC says older children, and especially pregnant teens, are probably more likely to have been diagnosed with Zika because its symptoms are more unusual in older kids and because of the concerns around pregnancy and Zika.
“Aspirin should never be used to treat symptoms of acute viral illnesses in children because of the risk for Reye syndrome. All nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) should be avoided in children aged under 6 months,” the team said.
Tylenol is the preferred option for lowering fever and treating aches when a virus is suspected.
And no one should take any NSAID such as ibuprofen until they are sure they do not have dengue virus. Dengue is closely related to Zika, causes similar symptoms and circulates in the same areas, but taking an NSAID to treat dengue can sometimes precipitate bleeding symptoms.
“Protecting children from mosquito bites is the best way to prevent Zika virus infection in children,” the CDC noted.
“However, among sexually active adolescents, there also is a risk for sexual transmission of Zika virus.”