A baby with severe Zika-related birth defects was born in San Diego County this week, prompting officials to urge pregnant women to avoid disease hotspots.
The infant's mother contracted the disease during a trip to a foreign country where the virus is widespread. The birth marks the first baby born in the county (though not the first in California) with Zika microcephaly—a syndrome in which the child's head is smaller than normal. Authorities are not revealing details about the case for privacy reasons, but it serves as a good reminder for all women who could be pregnant, or may want to get pregnant, to avoid areas in which Zika is spreading.
Congenital Zika syndrome results in microcephaly, which means that the baby's brain does not develop properly during or after pregnancy, hence the smaller head size. It is passed to the fetus via the infected mother, who contracts the disease from a mosquito bite (the Aedes variety) or through sex with an infected partner.
The syndrome is characterized by a partially collapsed skull, decreased brain tissue, damage to the back of the eye, limited joint motion (e.g., clubfoot), and too much muscle tone which restricts movement.
Microcephaly is uncommon, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that it affects around 12 babies per 10,000 live births in the Unites States. A range of other issues can stem from microcephaly, including seizures, developmental delays, intellectual disability, and hearing/sight problems.
As of March 14, 54 babies have been born in the US with Zika-related birth defects, out of more than 1,200 confirmed Zika-exposed pregnancies.
Speaking about the San Diego case, Wilma Wooten, a county public health officer, advised expectant mothers to be vigilant whilst traveling:
Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and speak with a health care provider upon return.
Symptoms of the illness include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, and usually take 3–7 days to appear. However, Zika can cause Guillain–Barré syndrome which affects the immune system and inflicts nerve damage.
The 297 identified cases of Zika that were caught in the US since January 2015 were previously confined to Florida and Texas, but more than 4,800 people have come back to the US from other countries with the virus. San Diego's Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) reported that there have been 87 cases of travel-related Zika illnesses in San Diego as of March 24, with four out of five people being asymptomatic.
To avoid contracting the disease, the HHSA urged people to "Prevent, Protect, Report" by wearing insect repellent (an EPA-registered product for pregnant women) and long sleeved-clothing, keeping windows closed, emptying standing water from pots outside to reduce mosquito numbers, and reporting if they have been bitten.