#NewsdayTuesday: Birth Defects Rise 20 Times More in Moms With Zika

By Holly Rosen Fink

March 28, 2017

Five things to know about ZikaZika is a concern to anyone who is pregnant. It’s a virus that can cause serious problems and can be passed onto your baby. It can cause a birth defect called microcephaly and other brain problems. It also may be linked to other serious issues for a baby. These are key facts that we have known since the epidemic broke out last year.

However, according to a new report by CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s even worse than we thought. Lab tests recently found that American mothers infected with the virus last year were 20 times as likely to give birth to babies with birth defects as mothers who gave birth two years before the epidemic.

The new study examined several hundred pregnant women with the virus in North Carolina, Massachusetts and three counties surrounding Atlanta. Researchers compared their birth outcomes to those found in historic registries of birth defects. They found that in 2013 and 2014, the typical rate of severe birth defects (including microcephaly, brain abnormalities, eye defects or central nervous system problems) in those states was about 3 out of every 1,000 live births. By contrast, the 442 women in the pregnancy registry had 26 infants and fetuses with similar defects – this translates a rate of about 60 out of every 1,000 pregnancy outcomes, including live births, miscarriages and abortions.

The good news: For a pregnant woman outside of areas where Zika is prevalent, the risk of having, or losing, a baby with a defect such as microcephaly, neural tube defect, or brain or eye abnormality is low, well under 1 percent.

The bad news: For a pregnant woman infected with Zika, that risk escalates by roughly 20 times. She will have a 5.9 percent chance that her baby will miscarry or be born with one of the serious abnormalities linked to Zika.

Furthermore, the study shows that Zika is extremely dangerous to fetuses. CDC continues to recommend that pregnant women not travel to areas with Zika so they don’t come in contact with the virus. It’s important to stay informed about the virus and know the areas of the world where it has spread.

What you need to know about Zika

What we do not know about Zika

  • If there’s a safe time during your pregnancy to travel to an area with Zika.
  • How likely it is that Zika infection will affect your pregnancy.
  • Whether your baby will have birth defects if you are infected while pregnant.


Take Action Challenge

  • For a list of CDC’s travel advisories and some general advice to pregnant women about Zika, see here.
  • Read the latest CDC study to become familiar with the birth effects associated with Zika and spread the word

Photo credit: Jannelissa Santana, 37 weeks pregnant, stands next to a flier explaining Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya prevention at a public hospital in San Juan on Feb. 3. (Alvin Baez/Reuters)

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