Zika Birth Defects Increase in U.S. in 2016

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About one in 10 pregnant women with confirmed Zika infections had a fetus or baby with birth defects, offering the clearest picture yet of the risk of Zika infection during pregnancy, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday. This report is the first to provide the analysis of a subgroup of pregnant women in the USA with clear, 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".

About one in 10 of women in the United States who were infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy had a fetus or baby with birth defects, US health authorities said Tuesday.

Among the 972 completed pregnancies, Zika-related birth defects were reported in 51 or 5 percent.

Yet the new report found that only 24% of children of women who might have been infected during pregnancy were given brain scans after they were born.

Zika's impact on babies and their families can be devastating, not only because of the heartbreaking physical effects, but also because of resources needed to care for affected babies.

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

In the current tally, only one-fourth of USA infants born to women suspected to have Zika were given brain imaging tests after birth, meaning it's still possible we might be underestimating the harm Zika may have caused. Most were exposed during travel to one of the dozens of Zika-affected countries.

Zika infection during pregnancy has been most closely linked to microcephaly in developing fetuses, a condition in which the skull and brain are underdeveloped. "We can not identify all of the babies with serious abnormalities without the brain imaging". Among these, about one in 10 had a fetus or baby with birth defects.

CDC officials also pointed to another possible shortcoming in the data: Despite a CDC recommendation that brain scans be performed on all babies born to women with possible Zika infection, only 25 percent of the babies in the study had brain imaging, so the actual number of impaired infants could be higher.

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Almost 1,300 pregnant women with evidence of possible Zika infection were reported to the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry.

The new report "confirms the now indisputable evidence that Zika has a great capacity to cause birth defects, especially in the first trimester", said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an affiliated scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

Of the 1,000 pregnancies that were completed by the end of the year, more than 50, or five percent, had Zika-related birth defects.

The report found Zika still poses a serious risk during pregnancy and it's important for pregnant women to continue taking steps to prevent exposure to the virus through mosquito bites and sexual transmission.

The CDC recommended healthcare providers also educate families on Zika prevention, provide all needed tests and follow-up care and support babies and families.

Among pregnant women with confirmed Zika infection, about 1 in 10 had a fetus or baby with birth defects. Because of limitations of testing, only tests done within the first few weeks of Zika can test specifically for the Zika virus.

Florida health officials confirmed 1,440 Zika infections in 2016, including 292 pregnant women.

Vital Signs is a report that appears as part of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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