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U.S. Birth Defects Related to Zika Virus Surge In 2016

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A new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows 1 in 10 women in the U.S. with a confirmed Zika virus infection in 2016 had babies with virus-related birth defects. The data shows that as the weather warms, and the summer travel season approaches, women in the U.S. who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should remain vigilant about the risk of contracting the mosquito-borne infection.

“We’re still seeing about 30 to 40 new Zika cases in pregnant women each week in the United States,” explains CDC Acting Director Dr. Anne Schuchat. “With the current tally of more than 1,600 pregnant women with evidence of Zika reported nationwide.”

The CDC report analyzed the outcomes of 1,300 pregnancies in 2016 for women on the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry. These women lived in 44 U.S. states, with the majority contracting the virus during travel outside the country. Of the 1,000 who completed their pregnancies, 50 had babies with Zika-related birth defects. Women with a test-confirmed Zika infection in the first trimester had the highest rate of birth defects, at about 15 percent.

“Although we’re still learning about the full range of birth defects that can occur when a woman is infected with Zika during pregnancy, we have seen that it can cause brain abnormalities, vision problems, hearing problems, and other consequences of brain damage that might require lifelong specialized care,” explains Schuchat.

CDC officials say that families should continue to take precautions to avoid Zika infection. The biggest precaution being to avoid travel to areas with Zika. That includes South Florida, Mexico, South America, portions of Africa and India. Other precautions include the use of safe mosquito repellents. The CDC also recommends avoiding sex during pregnancy since a father can sexually transmit Zika to his partner.

The CDC urges parents to have their doctor regularly monitor babies exposed to Zika. Some Zika-related birth defects remain subtle or do not show up for months.