Babies Born With Zika-Related Birth Defects In The US Last Year

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reports about one in ten pregnant women with a confirmed Zika infection in 2016 had a fetus or baby with a brain abnormality or other neurological disorder associated with the virus.

"Vital Signs: Update on Zika Virus-Associated Birth Defects and Evaluation of All U.S. Infants with Congenital Zika Virus Exposure - U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry, 2016" was an early release in MMWR, Vol. 66, April 4, 2017. "Zika continues to be a threat to pregnant women across the U.S.", CDC acting Director Dr. Anne Schuchat said in a statement Tuesday. "With warm weather and a new mosquito season approaching, prevention is crucial to protect the health of mothers and babies". They also urged health providers to educate families on Zika prevention, provide all needed testing and follow-up care, and support affected babies and their families. In 2016, almost 1,000 pregnant women from 44 states who completed their pregnancies had some evidence of a recent Zika infection and were at risk of having a fetus or baby with Zika-related birth defects.

Almost 1,300 pregnant women with evidence of possible Zika infection were reported to the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry from January 15 to December 27, 2016.

Scientists have known Zika infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly and other brain abnormalities in developing fetuses.

The lack of motivation for testing led the CDC to monitor all pregnant women with any evidence of recent Zika infection.

Prior to the Zika epidemic, baseline prevalence for birth defects, such as those seen with Zika virus, was about three in 1,000, said Schuchat.

One reason for the possible underestimation is that although the CDC recommends that all infants born to mothers who may have been infected with Zika undergo brain imaging, just 25 percent of the babies in the study underwent such brain imaging.




Although cases of Zika have started to decline in many parts of Latin America, Honein says, the risk is still high for pregnant women. A baby can be born healthy, with a normal head size, but then develop neurological problems later on. That is because researchers may not have been aware of all the asymptomatic Zika cases: Some women without symptoms may not have gotten tested for Zika, and consequently, their cases would not be reported. Out of 1,000 pregnancies completed by the end of the year, more than 50 involved Zika-related birth defects.

Note that this surveillance data from the CDC suggests that roughly 10% of Zika-infected babies in the U.S. have a Zika-associated abnormality.

Most infections are spread by mosquitoes, but the virus also can be transmitted through sex and bodily fluids. She said local hospitals, such as Jackson Health System, have established Zika-specific care plans, and that the state agency would help ensure that patients follow CDC guidelines for evaluating infants impacted by the virus.

Forty-four states reported pregnant women with evidence of Zika in 2016.

"Brain imaging, for example a brain ultrasound or a CT, is important to look for abnormalities, because we know that some babies have underlying brain defects that are otherwise not evident at birth", she said.

As a result, some babies have seizures, others have little to no control over their arms and legs and can't freely reach out to touch things around them because of constricted joints, Schuchat said during a briefing with reporters.

The CDC continues to receive reports of 30 to 40 new Zika cases in pregnant women each week in the United States. CDC experts published their findings today in a Vital Signs report in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

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