Medical City Healthcare - March 13, 2017

What You Need to Know about the Zika Virus and Birth Defects

Since last July, Zika virus cases in Texas have increased from 53 to 317. This is important to note because the CDC just released a study showing that pregnant women infected with the virus are 20 times more likely to have a baby with birth defects as compared to moms who gave birth in 2013-2014, before the virus reached the U.S.

Birth defects associated with Zika include brain abnormalities and/or microcephaly, neural tube defects and other early brain malformations, eye defects and other central nervous system problems. In 2013-2014, these types of defects were seen in about 3 of every 1,000 births. In 2016, the number of infants with these same types of defects born to women infected with Zika virus during pregnancy was nearly 60 out of every 1,000.

"The truth is, for a lot of people when they get pregnant, the chances of them having a baby with a birth defect doesn't even come in to their mind," said Tala Nasr, MD, a neonatologist at Medical City Children's Hospital.

In light of the CDC's findings, however, Dr. Nasr urges pregnant women to keep their scheduled appointments and choose the right hospital for their deliveries.

"There's been such a massive improvement in being able to take care of a lot of these birth defects," she said. "However terrifying it is, it's very important for mothers to get their follow-ups and make sure they're seeing their maternal-fetal medicine specialists. It's also important that they're delivering in a center where people are capable of taking care of these defects."

All about Zika.

As a reminder, here's what you need to know about the Zika virus and how to protect yourself and your unborn or future baby.

  • The virus carrier is the Aedes mosquito, a daytime biter
  • Transmission is through
    • The bite of an infected mosquito
    • From mother to baby during pregnancy
    • Sexual contact with an infected person via semen
  • While most infected people don't develop symptoms, the most common symptoms include
    • Fever
    • Rash
    • Joint Pain
    • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Those at higher risk for developing symptoms include
    • Pregnant women
    • The elderly
    • Infants and small children
    • Anyone with a medical condition or weakened immune system
  • Possible complications of babies infected with Zika during pregnancy include
    • Brain abnormalities and/or microcephaly
    • Neural tube defects and other early brain malformations
    • Eye defects and other central nervous system problems
    • Hearing loss and impaired growth
  • Treatment involves easing symptoms with rest, fluids and over-the-counter pain and fever reducers; there are currently no vaccinations or medications to treat or prevent Zika
  • Prevention is key; here's how
    • Apply insect repellent with DEET (safe for pregnant women) every 90 minutes
    • Cover exposed skin with loose, light-colored clothing (dark colors attract mosquitos)
    • Clear your property of all standing water or treat water you can't eliminate with mosquito dunks
    • Stay in air conditioned places with window and door screens
  • Avoid travel to active virus transmission areas

Dr. Tala Nasr offered expert opinion about monitoring pregnant women for Zika infection after the CDC's latest report linked it to a variety of birth defects. Her important message was broadcast on NBC stations in Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Connecticut, Miami, and Philadelphia.

NBC5 DFW: Zika Virus Resulted in More Birth Defects in US: CDC

NBC4 New York: Birth Defects Rise 20 Times in Zika-Affected Pregnancies: CDC

NCB4 Los Angeles: Birth Defects Rise 20 Times in Zika-Affected Pregnancies: CDC

NCB6 Miami: Birth Defects Rise 20 Times in Zika-Affected Pregnancies: CDC

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