DALLAS—A baby has been born with a Zika-related birth defect, officials in Harris County said on Wednesday. The baby’s mother was infected with the Zika virus in Latin America and passed the virus to the baby in the womb. The child is the first in Texas to be born with a birth defect linked to Zika.
Zika is the first mosquito-spread virus known to cause birth defects. The baby in Harris County has microcephaly, a condition characterized by an abnormally small brain and skull.
Some babies with the birth defect have a normal IQ and go on to live normal lives. Others are severely disabled and can suffer learning difficulties and seizures.
The largest outbreak of Zika virus began last spring and has spread to more than 50 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. More than a million people have been infected in Brazil alone.
In April the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that Zika causes birth defects when pregnant women are infected.
Besides microcephaly, Zika has been linked to eye problems, joint disorders and seizures in babies. Infection during the first trimester of pregnancy could be more dangerous than later stages, some experts say.
As of July 13 59 people have tested positive for Zika in Texas, according to the Department of State Health Services; three are pregnant women. All were infected while traveling in Latin America except for one Dallas resident who became infected through unprotected sex. In Dallas County 14 people have been diagnosed with Zika.
“It’s heartbreaking. This underscores the damage Zika can have on unborn babies,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner.
Last month officials said that 10 pregnant women in Dallas County had “possible infection” with the virus. About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika suffers symptoms that are typically mild and include fever, rash and red eyes. The virus is spread through mosquito bites and sex.
Although it stays in the blood for a relatively short time—less than a week—the virus has been found to persist in semen for weeks after a man has recovered from the infection.
Women who live in or have traveled to an area with Zika are advised to wait eight weeks before attempting to get pregnant.
Men who have had symptoms of Zika should wait six months before trying to start a family, according to the World Health Organization.
The CDC is collecting information about pregnant women diagnosed with Zika and is tracking the health of their babies. Pregnant women who have traveled to areas with a Zika outbreak are advised to discuss testing with their health care provider.
Image credits: Jeff Miller/UW-Madison via AP