A baby girl with severe microcephaly was born in Hackensack, New Jersey on Tuesday, June 1st to a 31-year-old Honduran woman infected with the Zika virus. This comes in the midst of an ongoing battle against the virus outbreak in Latin America and the Caribbean Islands.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 2,500 babies will be born in Brazil alone with microcephaly due to Zika virus infection in their mothers during pregnancy. Microcephaly is a severe birth defect characterized by an abnormally small head and underdevelopment of the brain.
The baby in New Jersey is the first to be born in the continental United States with Zika-associated birth defects. Zika-related microcephaly was previously identified in a baby born in Hawaii this past January.
Obstetrician and gynecologist, Dr. Manny Alvarez, explains the mother was aware she was infected with the virus before she arrived in the United States to visit her family. The baby was delivered via caesarean section at the Donna A. Sanzari Women's Hospital in Hackensack, NJ, when scans showed her to be below the expected weight for her gestational age. Following birth, she was found to be suffering from vision and intestinal problems as well.
The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 and takes its name from Uganda's Zika Forest. It spreads among humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. While the symptoms of Zika infection can be mild, such as low-grade fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, it has serious consequences in pregnant women, leading to severe birth defects in the baby. It is believed the virus selectively targets the brain cells of the developing fetus and destroys the precursor cells that eventually develop into the gray matter.
In addition to microcephaly, infants born to Zika-infected mothers are likely to have other associated problems like seizures, delayed development, intellectual limitations, impaired balance, as well as hearing, vision, and swallowing issues. These lifelong problems can vary from mild to severe and may be life-threatening in severe cases.
As the virus continues to spread in the Americas, concern is growing. The threat from Zika is very real, and it has become clear that much work still needs to be done in containing the virus.