Zika May Cause Birth Defects Less Often Than You'd Think

According to new research, the Zika virus doesn't always cause birth defects—though the numbers are still concerning.

Zika Virus Mosquito Thithawat.S/Shutterstock
The Zika virus is a new global health threat, and that means that there are still so many unknowns about it. Currently, the Zika virus has been linked to birth defects, and pregnant women are urged to avoid travel to areas where the infection is spreading, but the exact dangers are still under investigation.

But a new report from the CDC has some reassuring news for women who live in areas that are experiencing local transmission: Being exposed to the Zika virus doesn't necessarily mean your baby will be born with birth defects. One in 10 American women who were infected with the Zika virus gave birth to babies who developed the most common birth defects associated with Zika—brain damage or serious brain defects, such as microcephaly. The report also confirms what we've long suspected: That the virus is likely more dangerous if a woman is infected during her first trimester (but that doesn't mean its effects should be underestimated later in pregnancy).

But it's not all good news. The report indicates that most U.S. states have had at least one reported case of Zika during pregnancy—and Zika doesn't always present symptoms, which means women may be infected during pregnancy without realizing it. A lack of symptoms doesn't reduce your risk of passing birth defects to your children either. 

It's also important to consider that these findings don't necessarily paint a complete picture. Some of the babies born to women with Zika may look defect-free at birth, but issues may crop up later in life. That's the frustrating and terrifying nature of Zika, though: Because the virus is such a new issue, it's really difficult to fully understand how it manifests itself.

The bottom line? If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, minimize your exposure to any areas where Zika is spreading. Ultimately, it’s just not worth the risk.