Zika causes birth defects in one in 10 pregnancies: US study

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Of 1000 women who gave birth in 2016, 250 had confirmed signs of Zika after testing, and one in 10 had a fetus or baby with birth defects, according to the CDC. This report is the first to provide the analysis of a subgroup of pregnant women in the US with clear, confirmed test results of Zika virus infection. "Zika continues to be a threat to pregnant women across the U.S.", CDC acting director Anne Schuchat said in a statement. "With warm weather, a new mosquito season and summer travel rapidly approaching, prevention is crucial to protect the health of mothers and babies".

The report analyzed 1,297 pregnancies reported from January 15 through December 27, 2016, in the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Of those, 972 with laboratory evidence of possible Zika infection were considered "completed", resulting in 895 live births and 77 losses, a designation that could include stillbirths, miscarriages and abortions.

Overall, the risk of severe birth defects was about 5 percent among women who were infected with Zika during pregnancy. It also can lead to congenital Zika syndrome, which is a pattern of birth defects that includes brain abnormalities, vision problems, hearing loss, and limb defects.

"Zika virus can be scary and potentially devastating to families".

There is also evidence that some signs of Zika infection may not be obvious at birth, so past year the CDC recommended that babies born to women infected with the virus during pregnancy be monitored with brain scans and other developmental tests.

"Some seemingly healthy babies, born following pregnancies complicated by Zika, may have developmental problems that become evident months after birth", she said.

Only Texas and Florida have reported cases of local virus transmission, so women thus far remain at a very low risk in the U.S. However, if a woman is planning a pregnancy, she and her partner should be careful about their travel plans. "We know that there can be babies who don't have microcephaly but imaging of the brain can reveal serious brain defects". Of those, 24 pregnancies - about 10 per cent - resulted in a fetus or baby with birth defects.


Even more disturbing, the risk for birth defects is nearly certainly higher than the study suggests, because three-fourths of the infants born to mothers with some evidence of Zika infection did not receive the recommended brain imaging after birth.

In addition, the researchers did not follow up with the babies after birth, and some Zika-related anomalies may show up months later, Schuchat said.

Most infections are spread by mosquitoes, but the virus also can be transmitted through sex and bodily fluids. Pregnancies in Puerto Rico, which has by far the largest number of Zika infections of anywhere in the United States, are being tracked separately.

Of the 972 pregnancies that were completed by the end of the year, more than 50 had Zika-related birth defects. 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.

While there is no treatment for Zika, health officials recommend affected pregnant women receive additional monitoring so any birth defects can be found early. After only including women confirmed to have Zika through laboratory tests, the rate of birth defects rose to one in every ten births. The report also emphasizes the importance of healthcare providers screening all pregnant women for possible Zika virus exposure and testing and evaluating all infants born to women with evidence of Zika infection.

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

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

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