Birth Defects 20 Times Higher for Women Infected with Zika

Toni Houston
March 4, 2017

Pregnant mothers infected with the Zika virus are 20 percent more likely to bear children with specific birth defects such as microcephaly, a new study revealed.

To come up with the incidences of birth defects before Zika, the researchers looked at three programs that keep track of birth defects - in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Georgia.

The study said, based on limited data from three states, that the US saw a 20-fold increase in certain types of birth defects in 2016, the first year Zika was confirmed in the United States, compared with prior years.

So far in 2017, Florida has confirmed 13 cases of Zika, including four pregnant women, though all involved people who acquired the virus while traveling outside the country. If you're planning to get pregnant, the CDC says you should talk with your doctor before traveling to places with active Zika transmission as you may need to postpone your pregnancy plans. Prevalence of microcephaly also increased approximately 33 times when comparing the two data sets - from a rate of 1.5 per 1,000 live births to 49.8 per 1,000 live births.

Although Zika can cause other developmental issues later, Cragan doesn't believe they have a handle on the extent of those problems yet.

In the study, experts sought to determine how common birth defects had been before the spread of Zika virus. The large majority have been born in Brazil, but the consequences of Zika infection during pregnancy are now being seen in the United States.

Zika was an nearly unknown virus before it arrived in Brazil and started causing birth defects in 2015.

However, the proportion of babies with these types of birth defects who were born to women with Zika in 2016 was about 6 percent - almost 60 of every 1,000 infants, the findings showed.

Margaret Honein, chief of the birth defects branch at the CDC and an author of the report, said it's too early to give a precise estimate for the additional risk of birth defects from a Zika infection.

The CDC continues to discourage pregnant women from traveling to Zika-affected areas, reiterating the danger of Zika infection during pregnancy.

"I don't have that level of precision, but there is strong evidence of a major increase in risk", Honein said.

Florida reported three new local cases Thursday, although two of the patients appeared to have been infected previous year.

Statistics show that 747 infants and fetuses had been born with one or more birth defects in the three states.

CDC has awarded more than $27 million to 50 jurisdictions to establish or bolster surveillance systems that rapidly collect information about Zika-related birth defects.

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