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Inside Brazil’s struggle to treat thousands of kids born with a Zika-linked syndrome

A year ago this month, the Brazilian government declared an end to the Zika epidemic. But there’s a legacy of the outbreak that’s only beginning to come to light.

In the year since Brazil officially declared an end to the Zika outbreak, the aftermath has only just begun. An estimated 3,000 children have Congenital Zika Syndrome, the collection of neurological disorders that afflict the babies of mothers infected with Zika during pregnancy.

And Brazil is already struggling to treat them.

The most recognizable symptom of Congenital Zika Syndrome — and the first sign that this particular outbreak of Zika involved a new and unprecedentedly strong mutation of the virus — is microcephaly, or an abnormally small skull. Vanessa Van Der Linden, a pediatric neurologist who was among the first to see a link between Zika and microcephaly, says that’s now understood to be only one of many symptoms.

“The child with severe neurological damage possesses a spectrum of complications, which can be anything from impaired motor functions, eyesight, hearing problems, and arthrogryposis, which are deformities of the extremities,” Van Der Linden said. Another is epilepsy; some severely affected children have seizures every few minutes.

Civil Society in Brazil, with help from local and state governments, has done its best explore new treatments for children as a response to the emergence of this new condition. But the number of children born with Congenital Zika Syndrome is straining Brazil’s already threadbare public health system.

"I think our greatest difficulty with Congenital Zika Syndrome was, suddenly, all at once, in under six months, having 400 children with severe neurological issues,” Van Der Linden said. "Even if we could build more centers [to treat them], there is no one to hire to staff them.”

This segment originally aired May 9, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.