“Because we do not have brain imaging reports for most of the infants whose mothers had Zika during pregnancy, the current data may significantly underestimate the impact of [the virus],” Dr. Honein added.
Even with these caveats, the numbers presented by the CDC are troubling. Of the 1000 pregnancies analyzed, 51 (or 5%) resulted in babies born with Zika-related birth defects, including microcephaly and other brain abnormalities. Among those mothers with confirmed Zika infection
, the incidence of these brain abnormalities
was 10%. And, among those with confirmed Zika virus during the first trimester of pregnancy, 15% had babies born with Zika-related birth defects. Given that the normal incidence of these birth defects in the US population is roughly 3 per every 1000 births, according to Dr. Honein, these findings are particularly noteworthy.
Dr. Schuchat emphasized that microcephaly
is not the only birth complication associated with the virus—even though it garners the most attention. Babies born to mothers infected with Zika during pregnancy can experience hearing
and vision problems as well as other developmental issues, including failure to achieve growth “milestones” or difficulty using their arms and legs. Others suffer seizures. Notably, these problems do not necessarily present at birth, but may develop over time.
Dr. Schuchat also noted that these children will likely require “life-long specialized care.” It is estimated that the costs of care
for infants with microcephaly could exceed $4 million. If these children reach adulthood, these costs could surpass the $10 million mark.
Brian P. Duleavy is a medical writer and editor based in New York. His work has appeared in numerous healthcare-related publications. He is the former editor of Infectious Disease Special Edition.
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