The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Friday that it was monitoring 279 pregnant women across U.S. states and territories that are believed to have the Zika virus. The largest number of cases are emanating from Puerto Rico, where officials pin the number on 122 pregnant women. Officials said they were monitoring around 157 other women all over the country.
The number being touted by the CDC includes women who have shown symptoms for Zika, like conjunctivitis, rash, and fever.
According to a report released to The Washington Post, “a challenge of the Zika virus outbreak is the lack of understanding of the magnitude of risk and the spectrum of outcomes associated with the Zika virus infection during pregnancy.” The monitoring initiative was to assist in “risk assessment and in the counseling of pregnant women and families, advance clinical care, and help states and territories to anticipate and plan needed resources and increase prevention efforts.”
— CFR (@CFR_org) May 20, 2016
The report did not give in detail the outcomes of any pregnancy that was being monitored. When asked about the non-availability of the crucial information, officials highlighted the fact that most of the pregnancies were ongoing and that there was the need to exercise privacy concerns. But, the Chief of the CDC’s Birth Defects Branch said there were less than a dozen women with unfavorable outcomes so far. She said the CDC during the current monitoring process will eventually provide the public and researchers with enlightening information about the risks posed by the Zika virus with regards to developing fetuses.
The CDC said that they will begin to provide weekly updates about the exact number of Zika-related pregnancy cases that were being monitored. However, the numbers are expected to swell as the mosquito season approaches during the summer. Researchers and the CDC reached a conclusion recently that the virus carried by mosquitoes could cause serious fetal abnormalities and pregnancy problems.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 20, 2016
The most prominent defect is microcephaly, an uncommon condition characterized by a fetus with an unusually small head and a lull in brain development. Hundreds of babies with this condition have already been given birth to in South America, particularly in Brazil, when the virus outbreak was first recorded.
The Zika virus has spread to dozens of countries and island territories, especially in South and Central America and the Caribbean. The overwhelming numbers have pushed the CDC towards telling pregnant women not to travel to Zika-affected areas and to avoid having sex with anyone who has been to areas prone to the virus.
This month, Puerto Rico announced its first microcephaly case. A statement from the health department referred to a male fetus that displayed “severe microcephaly and calcifications in the brain accompanied by a Zika-wide presence of the virus.” This initial case was unearthed using “robust surveillance systems,” the abnormalities were detected by ultrasound. Ana Rius, the health secretary, said the fetus had been handed over to U.S. officials for testing; she refused to confirm whether the woman involved miscarried or had an abortion.
In February, the CDC said at least two pregnant women in the U.S. had agreed to have abortions; two other women had suffered miscarriages. The federal agency is presently developing twin surveillance systems in cooperation with local and state health officials. One would monitor cases in the mainland United States, while the other would focus on Puerto Rico, where the virus is spreading like wildfire.
Presently in the U.S., there are 544 Zika cases, almost all of them involving people who traveled to places prone to the virus. Additionally, there are more than 800 cases in territories outside the U.S., a majority from Puerto Rico, where the common means of transmission is through the mosquito. U.S. health officials are issuing caution over local outbreaks in the island territory, especially as summer temperatures will soon arrive.
[Image via Shutterstock/HTeam]