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CDC Provides Updates on Zika-Related Birth Defects

MAY 13, 2016 | SARAH ANWAR
To elaborate on the top areas of interest and challenges that health officials faced, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hosted their second in a series of six teleconferences that discusses Zika infection. This teleconference discussed Zika infection during pregnancy as well as subsequent birth defects.

Sonja A. Rasmussen, MD, MS, director of the CDC’s Division of Public Health Information Dissemination and editor in-chief of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report noted that although 4 in 5 Zika-infected adults are asymptomatic, the resulting complications in pregnant women and their fetuses are historical. She stated that it has been more than 50 years since an epidemic, the Rubella epidemic of the 1960s, resulted in as many birth defects as the Zika virus.

Zika virus has been detected in amniotic fluid, placenta, fetal and infant brains, and products of conception. The CDC officially confirmed a link between microcephaly and Zika infection after an unprecedented increase in cases immediately following the detection of Zika in Brazil in 2015. Zika infection around the time of fetal conception or during pregnancy can result in stillbirths, a decrease in the total amount of brain tissue, which would result in microcephaly, brain damage due to calcium deposits in the brain, excess fluid in the brain, irregular development of one or both eyes, and hearing impairments. Other common effects include:
  • Seizures
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Hypertonicity and posturing
  • Contractures which include club foot and joint curving
  • Severe irritability
  • Delays in development
  • Growth abnormalities
    • Intrauterine growth restriction
    • Head size not in proportion to length and weight
Dr. Rasmussen noted that there are still many unanswered questions regarding Zika infection in pregnant women. As a result, the CDC has launched three data collection initiatives: US Zika Pregnancy Registry, for pregnant women in the United States; Zika Active Pregnancy Surveillance System, for pregnant women in Puerto Rico; and Proyecto Vigilancia de Embarazadas con Zika, for pregnant women in Colombia. These programs are a collaboration between the CDC and state, tribal, local, and territorial health departments. They aim to monitor both pregnant women and their fetuses and to inform expecting mothers of clinical guidelines and infection prevention methods. The surveillance registries will monitor:
  • Pregnant women diagnosed with Zika infection
    • Infants born to these women
  • Infants with lab evidence of congenital Zika infection whose mothers did not test positive for Zika
    • Mothers of these infants


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