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1 in 20 pregnant women infected with Zika have babies with birth defects

Staff Writer |
One in 20 women in the U.S. territories who were infected with Zika during pregnancy had babies with serious birth defects.

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The exact percentage of infants born with these Zika-linked defects depended on when during pregnancy the woman was infected, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

Among women infected in the first trimester, 8 percent had a baby with defects; 5 percent in second trimester, and 4 percent in third trimester.

The findings also showed that birth defects could occur even in women who had no symptoms of Zika infection, CDC officials stressed.

In fact, 5 percent of those with symptoms gave birth to an infant with a birth defect, while 7 percent of those who had no symptoms had a baby born with a birth defect, said CDC Acting Director Dr. Anne Schuchat.

"Just because you don't have symptoms doesn't mean you're not infected," she noted during a media briefing. "There is no doubt that Zika virus infection during pregnancy diagnosed during any trimester can lead to severe birth defects.

"Although we are still learning about the full range of birth defects that can occur when a woman is infected with Zika during pregnancy, we know that it causes brain abnormality, vision problems and other devastating consequences of brain damage that might require lifelong specialized care," Schuchat added.

Some babies have seizures, while others have little or no control over their limbs and cannot reach out to touch things around them due to constricted joints, Schuchat said.

Others do not attain typical developmental milestones, like sitting up. Some have significant feeding difficulties and have trouble swallowing or breathing while eating, she added.

And there are babies who cry constantly and are often inconsolable, no matter what their caregiver does to soothe them, Schuchat said.

"The defects caused by Zika are not always obvious at birth," she noted.

"Some babies may be born with a normal head size, but may have underlying brain abnormalities, experience slow head growth and develop microcephaly after birth, she said.