Zika and Pregnancy: Protecting Babies, Protecting Yourself
The cry of a baby with Zika-related birth defects is a sound I will never forget as I work to combat the virus. Some of these babies cry continually, inconsolably.
Learning about the difficult, uncertain future that lies ahead for a baby born with serious damage to their brain, microcephaly, or other birth defects is understandably overwhelming to many parents.
And yet this will be the reality for some of the nearly 1,800 pregnant women throughout the United States with possible recent Zika infection reported to the US Zika Pregnancy Registry. About 1 in 10 pregnant women with confirmed Zika in 2016 have had a fetus or baby with Zika-related birth defects.
At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we continue to get reports of 30 to 40 new Zika cases in pregnant women every week in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The reality is Zika is not over. It is still a threat. That is why our priority for the 2017 Zika response is protecting fetuses and babies from the devastating effects this virus can have during pregnancy.
As we head into warmer weather months, we expect to see an increase in mosquitoes that spread Zika in certain parts of the country and we expect to see an increase in vacation traveling. We don’t know how many people will be affected by Zika this year, but the most important thing people need to know is this: Zika can be prevented.
To prevent Zika during pregnancy, pregnant women should:
- Avoid travel to areas with risk of Zika. Pregnant women who must travel to an area with risk of Zika should talk to their healthcare provider before traveling to understand the risks.
- Follow steps to prevent mosquito bites if they live in or travel to an area with risk of Zika.
- Avoid getting Zika through sex by using condoms or not having sex if their sex partner lives in or travels to an area with risk of Zika.
The reason we focus on prevention is clear: Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus and can cause microcephaly and severe brain defects. For babies who were infected with Zika during pregnancy, it can be a struggle to move their limbs and body, and they may have difficulty swallowing, seizures and problems with vision and hearing.
We are also concerned about what we don’t know and don’t see at birth.
While some cases of microcephaly can be seen easily at birth because of the baby’s very small head size, there are instances in which a baby appears normal at birth but actually has serious medical issues. That is why brain imaging at birth is critical to identify babies who may appear healthy but have underlying brain defects. Identifying such conditions early will help babies to receive the care they need. It also will enable parents to connect early to services and support that can help their sons and daughters reach their full potential in life.
Families of babies affected by Zika may be overwhelmed, worried, and unsure of next steps in caring for their baby. You may not know what services your child needs or where to find the right medical care. You may have also heard unfamiliar terms used in the news, from friends, or on social media. You’ll need to work with your baby’s doctors and healthcare providers to find the right care for your baby, which may include specialty healthcare providers.
To that end, Zika Care Connect, a network of specialty healthcare providers, will connect pregnant women, parents, and caregivers of infants and families affected by Zika to the specialized care they need. Zika Care Connect currently operates in 10 areas throughout the United States and territories, with plans for 10 additional areas in the near future. Families can find information by visiting www.zikacareconnect.org or calling the HelpLine toll-free: 1-844-677-0447, which has professionals available to answer your questions and assist you in finding the right healthcare specialists.
Every day we learn something new about this virus. Only time and careful research will disclose the full effect of the virus. Right now, our Zika pregnancy registries and rapid Zika Birth Defects Surveillance are a part of the navigation system for Zika, collecting information about the effects of Zika and helping to guide our nation’s response. These systems are helping us better understand the virus and its effects on pregnant women and their babies, by giving us critical data from all over the United States.
CDC remains vigilant to help prevent Zika and protect babies, and we ask that you do the same.
Learn more at: https://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html.
Here are three things pregnant women should do to prevent #Zika during pregnancy. https://go.usa.gov/xN4nn via @HHSgov
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