Microcephaly in Australian children, 2016-2018: National surveillance study

Carlos Nunez, Anne Morris, Cheryl A. Jones, Nadia Badawi, Gareth Baynam, Michele Hansen, Elizabeth J. Elliott

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1 Citation (Web of Science)


Objective: To describe infants aged <12 months reported with microcephaly to the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit (APSU) following emergence of Zika virus infection internationally. Design, setting and patients: National, active, monthly surveillance for microcephaly using the APSU. Microcephaly was defined as occipitofrontal circumference (OFC) of more than 2 SDs below the mean for age, gender and gestation. Main outcome measures: Clinical spectrum, aetiology and birth prevalence of microcephaly reported by paediatricians. Results: Between June 2016 and July 2018, 106 notifications were received, with clinical details provided for 96 (91%). After excluding ineligible notifications, 70 cases were confirmed, giving an annual birth prevalence of 1.12 (95% CI 0.88 to 1.42) per 10 000 live births. Of the total number of cases, 47 (67%) had primary microcephaly (at birth); and 25 (36%) had severe microcephaly (OFC >3 SDs). Birth defects were reported in 42 (60%). Of 49 infants with developmental assessment details available, 25 (51%) had failed to reach all milestones. Vision impairment was reported in 14 (26%). The cause of microcephaly was unknown in 60%: 13 (19%) had been diagnosed with genetic disorders; 22 (39%) had anomalies on neuroimaging. No congenital or probable Zika infection was identified. Severe microcephaly was more often associated with hearing impairment than microcephaly of >2 SDs but ≤3 SDs below the mean (p<0.007). Indigenous children and children with socioeconomic advantage were over-represented among children with microcephaly. Conclusion: Novel national data on microcephaly highlight the high proportion of idiopathic cases. This has implications for prevention and management and suggests the need for a standardised diagnostic approach and ongoing surveillance mechanism in Australia.

Original languageEnglish
JournalArchives of Disease in Childhood
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Nov 2020


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