Around 14 percent of babies whose mothers contracted Zika while pregnant ended up with a birth defect, developmental abnormality, or both, according a report released by the US government today (August 7). Some of the symptoms didn’t show up right away when the babies were born, but emerged in later testing.
“The full range of long-term health problems caused by Zika will remain unknown until these babies mature,” according to a summary of the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The agency collected health data on 1,450 babies at least one year old who were exposed to Zika in utero and born in a US territory. Six percent of the children had a Zika-associated birth defect, but others’ symptoms showed up later in life. Among 822 babies who did not have a birth defect, 14 had a brain abnormality that was revealed in neuroimaging.
“That happened because their brain was not growing and developing properly” due to the virus, Margaret Honein, director of the Division of Congenital and Developmental Disorders at the CDC, tells NPR.
In the US and its territories, reports of Zika infections tapered off at the beginning of 2017, with very few cases popping up since then. However, this likely isn’t the end of Zika, and outbreaks may re-emerge.
“I think the bottom line is that the Zika story is not over,” Honein tells The Washington Post. “People may feel like it’s behind us. For these children, it’s not over, and we need to know as much as possible so that we can be prepared” for a future outbreak.