A grandad has described the challenges of raising a child with microcephaly — the condition at the centre of a world-wide alert.
Doug Beattie, who is an Ulster Unionist councillor, revealed how his grandson Bradley, who is five, was only diagnosed after he developed behavioural issues.
World health chiefs are stepping up efforts to contain the spread of the Zika virus, which is blamed for a surge of cases of microcephaly in South America.
Doctors do not yet know why Bradley was born with the condition, which means he has an underdeveloped brain.
The former Army officer told Sunday Life: “I want people to be aware of the way it affects people.
“Bradley self harms and at one point there was even the suggestion that my daughter was hurting him, which wasn’t the case, of course.
“It was terribly upsetting for the whole family so when we finally got the diagnosis, it was actually a bit of a relief because we finally knew what we were dealing with and could start looking at ways of helping Bradley.”
Mr Beattie continued: “He is a mischievous boy, unruly at times and finds it hard to concentrate or indeed pay attention. He’s loving in his own way, but also standoffish.
“He self-harms, biting and punching himself, as well as banging his head off the floor or walls when he gets frustrated. It’s disturbing to watch and difficult to deal with.”
The severity of microcephaly varies, but it can be deadly if the brain is so underdeveloped that it cannot regulate the functions vital to life. Children that do survive face intellectual disability and development delays.
It can be caused by infections such as rubella, substance abuse during pregnancy or genetic abnormalities.
Mr Beattie continued: “They think there may be a genetic reason in Bradley’s case and they’re doing all sorts of tests to find out.”
Zika was declared an international emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday. No cases of the mosquito-born virus have been reported in the UK, but two adults have been confirmed to have had it in Ireland. Both have since fully recovered.