Sobering new statistics were released by the CDC Thursday.
For a long time, I thought Zika was far away, and wouldn't affect anyone here. We now know differently; that the mosquito-borne virus has infected pregnant women who traveled to infested areas. And now, the New York Times reports that in the U.S., a whopping 234 women who are currently expecting babies have Zika.
We don't know how many infected women have given birth, as the CDC has declined to share this information. But they did say six babies had abnormalities as a result of the virus, some related to microcephaly, a condition characterized by a baby being born with a smaller-than-average head and incomplete brain development. Three infants were born with birth defects, while sadly, another three died before birth, but did show evidence of defects.
The agency is planning to offer Americans weekly updates on the state of Zika in this country. But Dr. Denise J. Jamieson, a co-leader of the pregnancy and birth defects task force on the CDC’s Zika virus response team, admits specific details may be in short supply. "We're sort of in a hard place," she said, adding, "We can't provide a lot of information about where these women are in their pregnancy. We don't want to inadvertently disclose information about difficult decisions these women are making about their pregnancies."
Even without knowing exactly where these women live, or how far along they are, the idea that the virus has touched the lives of so many people here at home is definitely troubling. Zika is no longer an illness affecting women in other countries; not that that was okay! But at some point, it felt like we were safe.
That point is long gone.
Especially with the hot, humid months of the summer upon us, the number of people who contract Zika is expected to grow. And let's remember; 234 only reflects how many pregnant women have it!
For now, no cases of Zika being contracted in the continental United States have been reported. But according to the CDC, 189 pregnant women were infected in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Dr. Jamieson leaves us with a troubling forecast, saying, "Microcephalic babies are beginning to be born. The disease seems to be very similar no matter where it is." She also cites another very concerning pattern emerging from Zika cases: 80 percent of people will show no symptoms of having the virus! That means you can get it and not know until an ultrasound reveals an abnormality consistent with the illness.
Based on what is happening in other countries that are experiencing outbreaks, Dr. Jamieson estimates that if a mother has Zika, the current, approximate risk that her baby will have birth defects is between 1 and 15 percent.
That's certainly enough to encourage pregnant women not to travel to areas with outbreaks, and to do their best to protect themselves against infection by wearing protective clothing and bug spray, and certainly not to have sex with a partner who has traveled to an infected country, or has symptoms.
For answers to more of your Zika questions, check out Parents magazine's interview with Dr. Siobhan Dolan, a medical adviser to the March of Dimes and an OB/GYN at Albert Einstein College of Medicine: