One in 10 USA pregnant women with Zika faces birth defects: CDC

Tabitha Dunn
April 5, 2017

Underscoring the serious risk of birth defects from Zika, federal health officials on Tuesday reported that about one in ten pregnant women with a confirmed infection in 2016 had a fetus or baby with a brain abnormality or other neurological disorder associated with the virus.

The CDS's Vital Signs report is the first to provide an analysis of a subgroup of 250 pregnant women in the USA with confirmed test results of Zika virus infection. "Zika virus continues to be a threat to pregnant women across the U.S. With warm weather and a new mosquito season approaching, prevention is crucial to protect the health of mothers and babies". All health-care providers, especially obstetricians and pediatricians, need to improve monitoring of these infants. In 2016, almost 1,000 pregnant women from the 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.

Among the 972 women who had evidence of possible Zika infections and went on to give birth, the rate of birth defects was approximately five percent.

While microcephaly, or having a smaller-than-normal head, has become the symbol of Zika's impact on newborns, researchers have since documented a still incomplete laundry list of problems the virus is capable of causing - from hidden brain damage to frozen-in-place joints and blindness.

For this reason, the CDC now recommends babies infected with Zika have ultrasounds or CT scans of their brains to evaluate any abnormalities not apparent at birth.

After that time, Zika tests can only detect antibodies developed by the immune system to fight the virus - but those tests cannot clearly distinguish between Zika and related pathogens, such as dengue and chikungunya, and they require further testing. Of women with a confirmed Zika infection during the first trimester, 15 percent of the infants or fetuses had Zika-related birth defects, according to the CDC.

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And in general, birth defects from all causes affect more than 100,000 babies in the USA each year, the CDC reports. Some of the women were infected by mosquitoes in the continental United States, but all 51 cases of birth defects reported in the study were traced to infections acquired in one of 16 countries or territories in Latin America or the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico. She called for healthcare proviers to ask about possible Zika exposure when caring for pregnant women and their babies. 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.

The report also found that the risk of birth defects was slightly higher for women who contracted a Zika infection during their first trimester. Of those, 24 pregnancies - about 10 per cent - resulted in a fetus or baby with birth defects.

"This illustrates the fact that, despite Zika awareness being high, there is still much clinical education that needs to occur for the be able to effectively manage an outbreak", Adalja said.

The report also found that about one in three babies with possible congenital Zika infection had no report of Zika testing at birth and that only one in four babies with possible congenital Zika infection were reported to have received brain imaging after birth. Because of limitations of testing, only tests done within the first few weeks of Zika can test specifically for the Zika virus.

The new study appears in the CDC's April 4 Vital Signs report.

Today's report covers 1,297 pregnancies with possible recent Zika infection reported in 44 states in 2016.

Other reports by Guamnewswatch

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