A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nationwide, 10 percent of babies born to Zika-infected mothers in 2016 had birth defects.
The report, published Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also provided more evidence that the risk of birth defects was greater when women were infected in the first trimester of pregnancy.
"Zika continues to be a threat to pregnant women in the United States", said CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. They also urged health providers to educate families on Zika prevention, provide all needed testing and follow-up care, and support affected babies and their families.
The researchers analysed data on almost 1,000 completed pregnancies in 2016 among women who had some evidence of Zika infection.
While microcephaly, or having a smaller-than-normal head, has become the symbol of Zika's impact on newborns, researchers have since documented a still incomplete laundry list of problems the virus is capable of causing - from hidden brain damage to frozen-in-place joints and blindness. Additionally, only 1 in 4 babies with possible Zika infection in utero received brain imaging after birth to assess possible defects.
About 1 in 3 babies with possible congenital Zika infection had no report of Zika testing at birth. The March of Dimes also answers questions about Zika virus in social media and via email in both English and Spanish.
Those numbers climbed even higher when looking exclusively at pregnant women with confirmed Zika infections; 10 percent of those women gave birth to babies with congenital defects including microcephaly, a condition where the brain does not grow to full size. Zika testing remains complex because there is a narrow timeframe for obtaining a positive laboratory result, and many infected people do not have symptoms, the CDC said. In most cases, Zika was acquired during travel overseas to an area with active transmission of the mosquito-borne virus. "We know that there can be babies who don't have microcephaly but imaging of the brain can reveal serious brain defects".More news: Apple reportedly working to offer 'premium TV' streaming bundle
Lab tests confirmed Zika infection in 250 of the women. Of those, 24 pregnancies - about 10 per cent - resulted in a fetus or baby with birth defects. Each year about 8,000 babies are born in the US with disabilities because of infection with cytomegalovirus, or CMV. Pregnancies in Puerto Rico, which has by far the largest number of Zika infections of anywhere in the United States, are being tracked separately.
Last year, a backlog of Zika test results led to hundreds of patients, a lot of them pregnant women, waiting months to receive their results. And every pregnant woman should be asked about her travel history and that of her partner, since Zika can sometimes spread sexually, Duchin said. Out of 1,000 pregnancies completed by the end of the year, more than 50 involved Zika-related birth defects.
While there is no treatment for Zika, health officials recommend that affected pregnant women receive additional monitoring so any birth defects can be found early. She said local hospitals, such as Jackson Health System, have established Zika-specific care plans, and that the state agency would help ensure that patients follow CDC guidelines for evaluating infants impacted by the virus.
"It's important to look for abnormalities", said Dr. Peggy Honein, chief of the birth defects branch at the CDC.
Vital Signs is a report that appears as part of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Today's report covers 1,297 pregnancies with possible recent Zika infection reported in 44 states in 2016.