A report from the United States Centres for Disease Control (CDC) states that about one in ten pregnant women in the US who were confirmed to have a Zika virus infection in 2016 had a fetus or baby with Zika-related birth defects, the first report of its kind to give a full analysis of pregnant women with Zika in the US. The finding is significant, as previous accounts had indicated that while the Zika virus has indeed been spreading across the America since its outbreak in Brazil in mid-2015, the birth defects including, most notably, microcephaly had not been occurring to a substantial degree in regions outside of Brazil.
Mosquito season is about to hit many parts of North America, and with it now come heightened concerns about Zika virus.
“Zika virus can be scary and potentially devastating to families. Zika continues to be a threat to pregnant women across the US,” said CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “With warm weather and a new mosquito season approaching, prevention is crucial to protect the health of mothers and babies. Healthcare providers can play a key role in prevention efforts.”
The CDC report found that 44 states reported pregnant women with evidence of Zika, with a total of 1,300 pregnant women having evidence of possible Zika infection and 250 with confirmed Zika infection by the year’s end.
One in ten pregnant women with confirmed infections had a fetus or baby with birth defects, with confirmed infections during the first trimester posing the highest risk at 15 per cent.
“CDC recommends that pregnant women avoid travel to areas with risk of Zika and unprotected sex with a partner who has traveled to an area with Zika to prevent Zika-related birth defects in their babies,” said Peggy Honein, Ph.D., the Zika Response’s Pregnancy and Birth Defects Task Force co-lead.
According to the Pan American Health Organization, Brazil still tops the list with the highest number of cases of Zika at a little over 200,000 as of October 20, 2016, with Columbia and Venezuela coming in next at 95,700 and 58,500 respectively. There have been 4,015 estimated cases in the United States and 344 in Canada. The first Canadian case of Zika-related anomalies in a fetus occurred last summer.
A study conducted by the Canadian Travel Medicine Network, a network of travel clinics in Canada, found that Zika infections contracted by Canadian travellers in 2016 produced “more severe” reactions than other travel-related illnesses like dengue and chikungunya. “The common perception that Zika is a very mild illness wasn’t found in our results — for those who developed symptoms, the clinical outcomes were quite severe,” said Dr. Andrea Boggild, clinical director of the tropical disease unit at the University Health Network, University of Toronto and Public Health Ontario, to Global News.
The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy should avoid countries with reported mosquito-borne Zika transmission, including regions in the United States. The Health Agency singles out the states of Florida and Texas as regions to avoid due to locally-transmitted infections.