Birth Defects Affect 7 Percent of Zika-Exposed Babies: Study

From - March 14, 2018

Birth Defects Affect 7 Percent of Zika-Exposed Babies: Study

WEDNESDAY, March 14, 2018 -- A new study of pregnant women in the Caribbean further confirms that Zika virus causes birth defects, particularly if infection occurs early in pregnancy.

About 7 percent of Zika-infected women in French territories of the Caribbean delivered babies that suffered from birth defects of the brain and eyes, researchers report.

These numbers are close to those reflected in the United States' registry tracking the outcomes of Zika-affected pregnancies, researchers noted.

The virus "should definitely be added to the list of infectious agents that can cause severe birth defects, as are rubella virus, cytomegalovirus and others," said lead researcher Dr. Bruno Hoen. He's head of infectious and tropical diseases at Pointe-a-Pitre Hospital in Guadeloupe.

Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, emerged in Brazil in 2013. It spread rapidly throughout South and Central America and the Caribbean, usually causing only mild symptoms in adults. But babies exposed to Zika in the womb suffered serious consequences.

Between March 2016 and November 2016, researchers tracked the pregnancies of 546 women with confirmed Zika infection in the French Caribbean territories of French Guiana, Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Birth defects developed in 39 fetuses and infants, researchers said.

Microcephaly was the most common birth defect, occurring in 32 fetuses and infants. This defect causes abnormally small brains and skulls.

Seventeen babies also showed signs of congenital Zika syndrome, a cluster of birth defects that include microcephaly, decreased brain tissue, eye damage, frozen or disabled joints, and rigidity of the limbs.

The risk of birth defects was highest early in pregnancy but still significant at any point, researchers found. The range was almost 13 percent in the first trimester, less than 4 percent in the second trimester and more than 5 percent in the third trimester.

The risk of microcephaly, in particular, was about 3.7 percent in the first trimester compared with less than 1 percent in the second trimester and none in the third.

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