Up to nine pregnant women in the United States have been infected with Zika while traveling abroad, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed today. Two of those women elected to get abortions after being diagnosed with the Zika virus, and one woman gave birth to an infant with severe microcephaly — a condition in which the child's head is abnormally small. Two women had miscarriages, while two pregnancies resulted in the births of healthy infants. Two other pregnancies are still ongoing.
One woman gave birth to an infant with severe microcephaly
One of the women who chose to end her pregnancy did so after she found out about her Zika diagnosis and tests indicated her baby may have been born with birth defects. The woman, who is in her 30s, started experiencing symptoms when she was about 11 to 12 weeks along in her pregnancy. When she was 20 weeks along, she received an ultrasound that showed the fetus had severe loss of brain tissue. Tests of her amniotic fluid also showed Zika virus RNA to be present. The patient chose to get an abortion after discussing these results with her doctor.
This woman was one of six who reported symptoms of Zika during their first trimesters. These include the women whose pregnancies were spontaneously lost, as well as the woman whose child was born with birth defects. The two women who gave birth to healthy infants experienced Zika symptoms during their second and third trimesters. The CDC says it's not clear if contracting Zika during the first trimester led to the miscarriages or the microcephaly case. Many of the women reported fevers as a result of the infection, which may have affected their pregnancy outcomes, the agency says.
The Zika virus is often spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. (Wikimedia Commons)
It's still not yet confirmed if the mosquito-borne Zika virus is causing birth defects, but growing evidence points to the conditions being linked. Over the past year, Zika has spread rapidly throughout South America, and the outbreak has coincided with a huge increase in microcephaly cases. Zika virus has also been found in the brain of a developing fetus, indicating that the disease can pass from mother to child. The fetus also showed signs of birth defects.
Sexual transmission of the virus is more common than originally thought
Zika is primarily spread through mosquitoes, but the CDC also released a report today arguing that sexual transmission of the virus is more common than originally thought. The report highlighted two cases in which women contracted Zika after having sex with symptomatic men. And the CDC recently reported that 14 people may have been infected with Zika through sex. CDC Director Tom Frieden said the agency did not anticipate seeing so many cases of Zika through sexual contact. Because of this, the CDC recommends that men who live in or travel to Zika infected areas should not have sex with a pregnant partner.
Though these developments may seem alarming, the risk of Zika infection in the United States remains low. Only 147 US cases of Zika have been reported to the CDC, and 107 of those were travelers returning from infected areas. Most of the 40 infections that were locally acquired have occurred in Puerto Rico.
However, the Zika outbreak continues to grow in Brazil and South America. Up to 1.5 million cases are suspected in Brazil, according to the World Health Organization. And unlike the United States, abortion isn't an option for pregnant women who contract the virus. Brazilian authorities have recommended that women abstain from having sex while the outbreak is ongoing.