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CDC: Brain, eye abnormalities 30 times higher in infants exposed to Zika :

August 7, 2018

About one in seven children exposed to Zika virus in utero has birth defects or other health issues, according to a new report.

The findings highlight the need for ongoing surveillance, especially as some of the abnormalities were not apparent at birth.

“The Zika story is not over, especially for the children and families who have been directly affected,” saidPeggy Honein, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Division of Congenital and Developmental Disorders.

CDC researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Zika Pregnancy and Infant Registry on 1,450 children in U.S. territories who were at least 1 year old and whose mother had confirmed or possible Zika virus infection while pregnant.

Roughly 6% had at least one birth defect potentially linked to Zika such as brain or eye anomalies or microcephaly at birth, according to the findings published today in a Vital Signs report. The rate of brain or eye abnormalities was 30 times higher than the baseline of infants and children without Zika.

About 9% had at least one neurodevelopmental abnormality, including seizures, problems swallowing, developmental delays or postnatal-onset microcephaly. Another 1% had both a birth defect and neurodevelopmental abnormality.

Microcephaly, the primary concern when Zika began spreading in Central and South America, was reported in 6% of the children. About one-quarter of those had postnatal onset.

“Based on what we’ve learned about other congenital infections, we suspect the health issues will continue to emerge as these children age,” Dr. Honein said. “This is why it is so absolutely critical that these babies receive care to identify issues as soon as possible.”

The CDC found screening has fallen short. Just 36% of children in the study had the recommended ophthalmologic evaluation. About 48% had an automated auditory brainstem response-based hearing screening, 60% had postnatal neuroimaging and 76% had developmental screening.

Dr. Honein urged health care providers to remain vigilant, ask mothers about possible Zika exposure during pregnancy and perform recommended screenings and exams. If issues are detected, children should be referred to the appropriate specialists for follow-up care.

The CDC also updated its guidance on sexual transmission of Zika virus, recommending men use a condom or abstain from sex for at least three months after Zika exposure. It previously recommended at least six months. Men still should abstain or use a condom during sex with a pregnant partner for the duration of the pregnancy.

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