Texas public health officials confirmed the birth of a baby boy in Harris County with Zika-linked microcephaly, the congenital birth defect where a newborn’s head and brain are only partially developed. This marks the first live birth of a baby with Zika-related microcephaly in the Lone Star State.
“Microcephaly is one of the worst tragedies related to Zika virus infection. We are sad to report that we now have our first case of Zika-associated microcephaly and our hearts go out to the family, said Umair A. Shah, MD. MPH, executive director of Harris County Public Health (HCPH).
The birth defect stunts the developing baby’s brain and head from growing fully. With its link to microcephaly, Zika poses a serious threat to unborn children. “It’s heartbreaking. This underscores the damage Zika can have on unborn babies,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) commissioner. “Our state’s work against Zika has never been more vital.”
Texas DSHS educates women and families about how to protect themselves from Zika through its Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. They work closely with other state agencies to emphasize precaution at schools, daycare centers, and in women’s health programs.
Houston’s KHOU 11 (CBS) reported the mother is from Colombia where she likely was infected and the baby contracted the infection in utero. She came to Harris County during her third trimester of pregnancy. Neither baby nor mother are contageous and there is no additional risk in Texas. However, when she was tested, the results came back as inconclusive. Doctors diagnosed the son with microcephaly at birth.
“Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed that Zika is linked to birth defects, we continue to encourage individuals traveling to areas where the virus has been identified to take steps to prevent Zika infection, and to contact their healthcare provider immediately if they develop Zika symptoms even upon return to the United States,” added Shah.
“Our central goal is protecting unborn babies from Zika,” stated 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 date, Texas reported 63 cases of Zika-related disease. Of those, 62 were travelers infected abroad and diagnosed after they returned home; two of those travelers were pregnant women. Recently, state officials tested 10 pregnant Dallas women exhibiting Zika symptoms.
Nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 320 pregnant women with laboratory evidence of possible Zika infection. They account for nine infants born with Zika-related birth defects such as microcephaly or other brain damage. Six pregnancies ended in miscarriage and/or stillbirth. An additional 279 reflected pregnant women in U.S. territories where no babies have been reported born with Zika-linked birth defects but one pregnancy ended poorly where the baby did not survive.
Zika symptoms, for most, are mild and include fever, rash, conjunctivitis, and joint-pain, lasting several days to a week. Although hospitalization and death is rare, the virus has been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, an immune system disorder that causes severe joint and muscle pain. Zika can also be transmitted sexually. The first U.S. cases of sexually transmitted Zika through heterosexual and homosexual contact happened in Texas.
While public health officials previously expressed concerns over the possibility of “transmission cycles” where local Texas mosquitoes could contract and spread Zika after biting an infected patient, they now anticipate small pockets of Zika in limited clusters and not widespread transmission across large geographic areas of the state. They base their assessment on the state’s past experience with Dengue fever, a similar virus spread by the same indigenous Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, and on the prevalent precautionary use of window screens, air conditioning, EPA-approved insect repellent, protective clothing, and other mosquito control efforts statewide.
There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika virus infection. “We know that prevention is key to reducing the risk of Zika virus infection,” said Shah.
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