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Microcephaly

4-minute read

Microcephaly is a rare condition associated with mild to severe developmental delays and disability. Babies can be born with microcephaly or it can develop in their first few years. There are early childhood intervention services and support available to help.

What is microcephaly?

Microcephaly is a condition where a baby has a head that is smaller than expected. There are many different causes for this problem, including:

Microcephaly can affect a baby in different ways, including:

Microcephaly is a rare condition that is only reported in 1 in 25,000 babies in Australia.

Microcephaly and pregnancy

If you are pregnant, your doctor or midwife will discuss the health of both yourself and your baby at your antenatal visits. They might not talk specifically about microcephaly, but they can advise you about how to increase your chances of having a healthy baby.

During your pregnancy, you are likely to have an ultrasound and other tests to check on your baby's health. If there are any signs of a problem, your doctor will discuss this with you. Microcephaly can generally only be diagnosed during an ultrasound in the third trimester because a smaller than expected head size will not be obvious before this time.

If your baby is suspected of having microcephaly, further tests will be performed to identify the cause. Your doctor, obstetrician, midwife or a genetic counsellor will be able to answer any questions that you might have, including how it might impact your pregnancy and what your options are. You can also ask about how this might affect your child in the future.

Diagnosis of microcephaly after birth

A diagnosis of microcephaly is made simply by measuring a baby's head. It can be more difficult to work out why the baby's head is smaller than usual, and that might need a number of tests.

Treatment for microcephaly

There is no cure for microcephaly. If your child has microcephaly, there are services and treatments that can help improve their health. As part of their treatment your child may see various health professionals such as a paediatrician, a speech pathologist, an occupational therapist or a physiotherapist, depending on their symptoms.

Microcephaly and Zika virus

Zika virus is an infection that is spread by mosquitoes or sexual contact. About 4 in 5 people who have the infection have no symptoms. Those who do get symptoms might have fever, rash, tiredness, aches and pains. Zika virus infections in Australia are generally reported in people who have travelled to a country where the virus is very common, such as in Central and South America and the Pacific. Zika virus is not found in Australia.

The Australian Department of Health recommends that women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant should avoid travel to a country affected by Zika because there are concerns that pregnant women infected with the Zika virus might pass the infection on to their unborn babies, causing health problems for the baby, including microcephaly. If you need to travel to one of these countries, you should follow recommendations on preventing mosquito bites, and it is also recommended that pregnant women who have returned from a location where Zika virus is common are tested for the infection.

Because the Zika virus can be passed along by sexual contact, men who travel to places where Zika is common should avoid unprotected sex for 8 weeks after returning, and longer if their partner is planning a pregnancy.

If you have any questions about microcephaly or the Zika virus, talk to your doctor.

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Last reviewed: April 2020


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Microcephaly

Microcephaly is a rare condition associated with mild to severe developmental delays and disability. Read how it can affect pregnancy and its link to Zika virus.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Zika virus - Better Health Channel

Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus. There is no cure, specific treatment or vaccine for Zika virus.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Zika virus

Zika is a virus that is closely related to dengue. It is spread by mosquitoes.

Read more on Queensland Health website

RANZCOG - Zika Virus

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) is dedicated to the establishment of high standards of practice in obstetrics and gynaecology and women’s health.

Read more on RANZCOG - Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website

Microcephaly: symptoms, diagnosis, support | Raising Children Network

Children with microcephaly have smaller than usual heads and brains. They often have intellectual disability. Early intervention can improve quality of life.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Pregnancy, birth and baby | Australian Government Department of Health

It’s important that all pregnant women can find the support they need to keep themselves and their babies safe. The health of a baby at birth can affect their wellbeing throughout the rest of their lives. Find out what we’re doing to improve pregnancy, birth and baby health for all Australians.

Read more on Department of Health website

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With the proper precautions, and armed with information on when to travel, vaccinations and insurance, most women can travel safely well into their pregnancy.

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Cytomegalovirus | Australian Government Department of Health

Cytomegalovirus is the most common infectious cause and the second most common overall cause of congenital malformation in Australia. However, there is limited evidence to support universal testing of pregnant women for cytomegalovirus. As cytomegalovirus may be transmitted to the baby and can have

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