Zika birth defects noted in 1 in 10 infected United States pregnant women

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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. "Zika continues to present a awful threat to pregnant women and infants, and we need to improve awareness among pregnant women and their providers".

In a press call, CDC acting director Anne Schuchat, MD, said that the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry showed pregnancies with evidence of Zika infection in 44 states. "With warm weather and a new mosquito season approaching, prevention is crucial to protect the health of mothers and babies".

"Healthcare providers play a key role in prevention efforts for Zika", she said.

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.

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

Reported birth defects include microcephaly, in which the brain does not develop properly, and other brain abnormalities.

The report noted that only 1 in 4 babies with possible congenital Zika infection were reported to have received brain imaging after birth.

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.

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The study, published Tuesday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, is the largest so far to estimate the risk of severe birth defects from Zika infections in pregnant women. Schuchat, however, said the recommendation for physical exam and tests for Zika-affected babies is relatively new, and many clinicians might not be aware of it and may not know the value of brain scanning. Most were infected through travel to a region where the virus was actively spreading.

In addition to funding more lab resources, Philip said the health department also will launch a program to coordinate care for infants born to mothers infected with Zika while pregnant.

Birth defects potentially associated with Zika during pregnancy included brain abnormalities, such as microcephaly, eye disorders, central nervous system dysfunction and other neurological problems. "Because we do not have brain imaging reports for most of the infants, our current data might significantly underestimate the impact of Zika", CDC's Peggy Honein told a news briefing.

The findings from this report confirm the serious threat posed by Zika virus infection during pregnancy and the critical need for pregnant women to continue taking steps to prevent Zika virus exposure through mosquito bites and sexual transmission. Each year about 8,000 babies are born in the USA with disabilities because of infection with cytomegalovirus, or CMV. Philip said that as of March 27, the health department was waiting for the CDC to deliver Zika test results for about 26 cases, including 16possible infections from 2016 and 10this year.

The study comes from the CDC's Zika pregnancy registry, which includes data from the continental United States and all U.S. territories except Puerto Rico.

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.

While there is no treatment for Zika, health officials recommend that affected pregnant women receive additional monitoring so any birth defects can be found early.

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