About one in 10 women infected with the Zika virus who gave birth in 2016 had babies with Zika-related defects, according to the latest US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report.
The CDC concluded there is a significant chance that babies exposed to this virus will be adversely impacted with brain abnormalities or other health issues. Education and vigilance may help women avoid getting the Zika virus, the CDC said.
The Zika virus exploded into worldwide consciousness after stunning images of Brazilian babies with microcephaly (a smaller-than-usual head) – the result of an outbreak – emerged ahead of the Rio Olympics. It sparked travel fears, which promptly jumped to the United States when pockets of Zika-infected mosquitos were discovered in parts of Miami.
Travelers should not be the only ones concerned. A warmer than usual winter could mean more mosquitoes in Texas and Florida this summer – two states on the front lines of Zika – and more opportunity for the virus to spread.
“All pregnant women should be educated about how to avoid Zika virus exposure during prenatal visits,” said James Ducey, MD, director of maternal-fetal medicine at Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH). “All women admitted for delivery should be screened for Zika exposure. All newborns of Zika-infected mothers should be screened with careful physical exam and brain imaging as indicated.”
Mosquito bites should be avoided at all cost. The repellents DEET for skin and permethrin for clothes and all other external wear are safe and effective during pregnancy, advised Sunil Sood, MD, chief of pediatrics at Southside Hospital and an infectious disease specialist. He adds that traveling to many countries in the western hemisphere is not recommended for pregnant women.
The CDC surveyed 250 pregnant women in 2016 diagnosed with Zika and found that 24 of them had babies with birth defects. Microcephaly, vision issues and hearing loss are only some of the abnormalities.
There were 859 cases of Zika virus in New York State in 2016, 629 of which were in New York City. All were travel-related. The CDC has issued similar warnings this year, Dr. Sood said.
Screening and education are critical for all pregnant women. After all, many people infected with Zika do not exhibit symptoms. The virus can be transmitted through sexual contact. Zika symptoms include fever, rash, headache, muscle pain and red eyes.
Manhasset-based North Shore University Hospital’s Center for Maternal Fetal Medicine opened a Zika in Pregnancy program in March of last year. Northwell Health also began screening all of its blood donations for the Zika virus as of September 2016.
There isn’t yet a treatment or vaccine for the Zika virus. The CDC recommends rest to help manage the symptoms.