For months, pregnant women have been worried about the impact of the Zika virus on their health and that of their unborn child. And it looks like we finally have the first answer to the question of how likely Zika is to affect pregnancies and resulting babies.
In a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday, officials have confirmed that 1 in 10 pregnant U.S. women with confirmed Zika infection in 2016 had a baby with virus-related birth defects and 15 percent of women infected during the first trimester of pregnancy (where the risk of birth defects was greatest) end up with affected babies.
The CDC reported that nearly 1,300 pregnant women in 44 states had laboratory evidence of a Zika virus infection in 2016 (with 970 of those women having completed their pregnancies). Of those women with laboratory evidence of Zika virus, there were 77 reported pregnancy losses and 51 babies born with birth defects including 43 babies with microcephaly or brain abnormalities. Other babies had eye abnormalities or neural tube defects.
Most pregnant women were infected during travel abroad to an area with active transmission of the mosquito-borne virus. That is why the CDC and World Health Organization both recommend that if women cannot stay away from places where the virus is spreading, they should use measures to prevent mosquito bites such as insect repellant and clothing. They also suggest using condoms to prevent sexual transmission of the virus.
What’s a bit alarming about this recent report is that the CDC found many physicians aren’t carefully tracking pregnancies threatened by Zika. In fact, 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. That is why it is critical for any woman with a chance of Zika infection to ask for regular scans to see if their baby is affected — any babies born need an ultrasound or CT scan to check for birth defects.