A baby in Texas was born with Zika-linked microcephly, a condition in which babies have abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development.
The baby was born in Harris County, where Houston is located. The mother had traveled from Latin America, where she was likely infected with the mosquito-borne virus. Neither the mother nor the baby are infectious, and officials say there is no risk to the public.
“It’s heartbreaking. This underscores the damage Zika can have on unborn babies,” said John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. “Our state’s work against Zika has never been more vital.”
Seven babies had been born in the U.S. with birth defects related to Zika as of June 30, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Zika also was linked to six pregnancy losses, which includes miscarriages and abortions, in which fetuses had birth defects, in the U.S. and its territories.
The U.S. can expect to see more babies born with microcephaly due to Zika, said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
More than 1,100 travel-related Zika cases have been diagnosed in the continental U.S., including 320 cases in pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories, where Zika is spreading among local mosquitoes, doctors have diagnosed 2,534 cases of Zika, including 279 in pregnant women. The true number of Zika cases could be much higher. That’s because only about 20% of people infected with the virus develop symptoms, which include a rash, fever, joint pain and pink eye.
Between 1% to 13% of pregnant women infected with Zika virus give birth to babies with microcephaly, according to the CDC. For every baby born with microcephaly, there could be 10 to 100 more born with subtle damage related to Zika, Hotez said. The virus has been linked to pregnancy loss, growth restriction in the womb and vision problems in babies. Additional developmental problems could become apparent as Zika-affected babies grow up and attend school.
Texas health officials say they’re working to educate women and families about the risks of Zika through doctors and the Women, Infants and Children program, which serves low-income women.
Hellerstedt said he doesn’t anticipate that the U.S. will experience the sort of widespread Zika outbreaks seen in Brazil and other Latin American countries, because of Americans’ heavy use of window and doors screens and air conditioning, which help prevent exposure to mosquitoes.
“Our central goal is protecting unborn babies from Zika,” said Hellerstedt. “We are on alert for local transmission and will act fast to identify actual risk and continue to do everything we can to protect Texans.”
To reduce the risk of Zika, the CDC urges people to use insect repellent and wear pants and long-sleeve shirts when outside. People also should empty containers of standing water around their house, which can provide places for mosquitoes to breed.