About 10% of Pregnant Women with Zika Had Babies with Birth Defects

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About one in 10 women in the United States who were infected with Zika virus while pregnant had a fetus or baby with deformities a year ago, U.S. government scientists said Tuesday.

The report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the first to analyse a group of United States women with clear, confirmed test results of Zika infection during pregnancy.

"Zika continues to be a threat to pregnant women across the US", Dr Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC, said in a statement. "With warm weather, a new mosquito season and summer travel rapidly approaching, prevention is crucial to protect the health of mothers and babies".

She noted that the March of Dimes is hosting and promoting "Zika Care Connect", a new website that will launch this month to assist Zika-affected families in finding healthcare professionals around the country who can provide specialized care.

The report examined almost 1,300 women with evidence of Zika infection, as reported to the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry from January 15 to December 27, 2016.

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It's also important for women who might have been infected to have their babies watched closely after birth, since not all related birth defects are immediately obvious, CDC officials said. Of those, Zika-related birth defects were reported in 51 of the pregnancies, or 5 percent. It also can lead to a pattern of birth defects that includes brain abnormalities, vision problems, hearing loss and problems moving limbs.

The study indicates that nearly every state reported at least one woman with a suspected Zika infection in pregnancy. These women had tested positive for either the Zika virus or an "unspecified flavivirus", which could include Zika or another virus in that family, such as the dengue virus. Most of these women acquired Zika virus infection during travel to an area with Zika.

Zika infection during pregnancy has been most closely linked to microcephaly in developing fetuses, a condition in which the skull and brain are underdeveloped. Imaging could help detect brain abnormalities not visible at birth, and the CDC now recommends neuroimaging for any infant whose mother has Zika. 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.

Even more disturbing, the risk for birth defects is nearly certainly higher than the study suggests, because three-fourths of the infants born to mothers with some evidence of Zika infection did not receive the recommended brain imaging after birth. Each year about 8,000 babies are born in the US with disabilities because of infection with cytomegalovirus, or CMV.

The study comes from the CDC's Zika pregnancy registry, which includes data from the continental United States and all USA territories except Puerto Rico. That is because researchers may not have been aware of all the asymptomatic Zika cases: Some women without symptoms may not have gotten tested for Zika, and consequently, their cases would not be reported.

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The CDC reminds women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant to avoid travel to areas where the virus is circulating and to follow recommendations for preventing sexual transmission of the virus if their partner has traveled to such an area.

The rate of 10 percent repoted in 2016 is more than 30 times higher than the baseline prevalence before 2016, which was about three of every 1,000 live births.

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

A pregnant womanstands outside a maternity hospital in Singapore, Sept. 1, 2016.

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