U.S. study: Zika causes birth defects in one of 10 pregnancies

Posted April 06, 2017

One in 10 pregnant women in the continental United States with a confirmed Zika infection had a baby with brain damage or other serious birth defects, according to the most comprehensive report to date on American pregnancies during the Zika crisis.

The CDC continues to receive reports of 30 to 40 new Zika cases in pregnant women each week in the United States. The registry found that 51 of those 972 pregnancies, where a Zika infection was considered likely, resulted in birth defects. Of the 250 cases where the presence of a Zika infection was confirmed with laboratory testing, 10 percent, or 24 pregnancies, resulted in birth defects, the report said.

The report, published Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also provided more evidence that the risk of birth defects was greater when women were infected in the first trimester of pregnancy.

The majority of affected women acquired the virus during travel to an area where Zika is present. If they can not stay away, they should use insect repellent, clothing and other measures to prevent mosquito bites, and condoms to prevent sexual transmission of the virus.

Three of those seven are confirmed cases of the virus.

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About 1 in 3 babies with possible congenital Zika infection had no report of Zika testing at birth.

Screening for Zika is hard because many infected people don't have symptoms that might motivate them to get tested, and the longer the time lag after infection, the more complicated diagnosis becomes. "We don't know how much transmission there will be this year", Schuchat said.

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Last year, nearly 1,300 pregnancies with possible Zika infection were reported in 44 different states.

For more on Zika, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With a new mosquito season just around the corner and the travel season in full swing, CDC officials today urged pregnant women to avoid visiting areas with known Zika risk and avoid unprotected sex with a partner who has traveled to an area where the virus is spreading locally.

Although the Zika pregnancy registry includes all 50 states, pregnancies in this new report were reported in only 44 states. "I think most of us are good about telling our patients about the travel advisories, so a lot of women are preventing the family vacations and things like that to those areas". "Because we do not have brain imaging reports for most of the infants whose mothers had Zika during pregnancy, the current data may significantly underestimate the impact of [the virus]", Dr. Honein added.

The agency says women who become infected with Zika in their first trimester are at highest risk.

Zika-affected babies have needed about $4 million in treatment each; their lifetime total might hit $10 million apiece.

Babies with Zika virus are born with an abnormally small head. Some babies born after exposure in utero to Zika develop vision or hearing problems, as well as other brain abnormalities that don't emerge until later in development. The report analyzed data from 1000 completed pregnancies among mothers with suspected Zika infection included in the agency's Zika Pregnancy Registry, for the period beginning January 15, 2016 and ending December 27, 2016.

She said by mid-April, the state will begin conducting a complex test for distinguishing Zika from related viruses, such as dengue and chikungunya, that previously only the CDC could perform.