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, United States researchers said on Tuesday.
And the cases aren't slowing down.
Dr. Schuchat says, "While there is much left to learn about Zika, we do know this devastating outbreak is far from over and the consequences of this outbreak are heartbreaking". "Zika is here to stay".
Of the 972 completed pregnancies, 250 women had confirmed infections.
About one-third of babies with possible Zika infection during pregnancy were not tested for the virus at birth, and only 1 in 4 received brain imaging after birth to check for possible defects, the report said.
The CDC report is the first to analyze a group of pregnant women in the continental United States with confirmed infection reported to the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry from January 15 to December 27, 2016.
"It's really key for these babies to have a head ultrasound or CT scan to look for abnormalities that may not be apparent at birth", Margaret Honein, chief of the birth defects branch at the CDC and author of the report, said in an interview. Most of these women acquired Zika infection during travel to an area where Zika was known to be present. All 51 birth defects reported Tuesday were cases in which the mothers were infected while traveling to 16 areas where the virus is circulating: Belize, Barbados, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Marshall Islands and Venezuela. It rose even higher, to 15 percent, for those infected in the first trimester.
Note that this surveillance data from the CDC suggests that roughly 10% of Zika-infected babies in the United States have a Zika-associated abnormality.
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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.
Schuchat said that she hoped this report would help raise awareness among clinicians to do this type of imaging among babies at risk for Zika.
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, the CDC said.
For more on Zika, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That's why her agency recommends that all babies born to Zika-infected mothers should be closely monitored for developmental problems. Some may have seizures or muscle spasms, or a baby may have problems that are only detectable by a brain scan. 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. So far, Honein says only about one in four babies have had these exams.
However, the CDC analysis does not include data from pregnant women in Puerto Rico, where more than 37,000 cases have been reported since 2015, because the US territorial island has its own Zika pregnancy registry. This report also highlights possible gaps in clinical evaluation and management of infants with possible congenital Zika virus infection.
"I think it is very likely that we are underestimating the birth defects that follow Zika in pregnancy", Schuchat said. Most were infected through travel to a region where the virus was actively spreading. More widespread transmission has been reported in South America, Central America and the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, which is not included in the new report.