Pregnant women now have to be more careful than ever since a new study suggests that they might give birth to babies with microcephaly if they get infected with the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Zika increases the risk of the fetus to develop microcephaly or other birth defects, especially if the mother gets infected during the first trimester of the pregnancy.
Microcephaly is a rare condition that usually affects seven babies out of 10,000. They are born with undersized heads and can experience problems with hearing, vision, seizures, or some developmental issues. Now, the connection with the Zika virus brought more attention to microcephaly.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that birth defect rates are 20 times higher than usual in babies whose mothers got infected with Zika while pregnant. The birth defects they analyzed included microcephaly, neural tube defects, eye defects, and some other dysfunctions of the central nervous system.
First of all, CDC looked at how often such defects occur among populations that were not affected by Zika. This included Massachusetts and North Carolina in 2013, and three counties in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2013 and 2014. They chose these specific regions because they had some good surveillance systems that recorded the rates of birth defects.
The results showed that the birth defect rate was 2.86 per 1,000 births, with microcephaly more specifically 1.5 per 1,000 births. Then, they compared their numbers with statistics from the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry between January and September 2016.
During this period of time, 442 mothers infected with Zika had babies. Of these babies, 26 had birth defects. This raises the birth defect rate to 58.8 per 1,000 births. But what are the chances that a woman would have a child with a birth defect if she is infected while pregnant?
A study that looked at data from Brazil indicates that the chances for the baby to develop microcephaly are between 1 and 13 percent. The U.S. data falls between these rates and confirms the results.
The problem is much bigger than it seems, as more children are born to mothers infected with Zika and more develop microcephaly or other birth defects. Also, children might develop microcephaly when they are older, even if they were born healthy. Zika might not go away soon, and many lives are to be influenced by this terrible virus.
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