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Monday 9 December 2019

Baby born in US appears 'completely Zika affected'

Mosquitoes are not yet spreading Zika in the continental US (AP)
Mosquitoes are not yet spreading Zika in the continental US (AP)

A Honduran woman with the Zika virus has given birth in the US to a baby girl with birth defects that appear to be caused by the mosquito-borne virus, one of her doctors said.

The woman delivered the baby through a caesarean section on Tuesday at Hackensack University Medical Centre in New Jersey, Dr Abdulla Al-Kahn, the hospital's director of maternal-foetal medicine and surgery, said.

There have been more than 500 Zika cases in the US, all involving people who were infected in outbreak areas in South America, Central America or the Caribbean or people who had sex with infected travellers. Mosquitoes are not yet spreading Zika in the continental US, but experts predict small outbreaks are possible as mosquito season heats up.

The 31-year-old mother was diagnosed with Zika in her native Honduras after lab results were sent to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for confirmation of the virus, said Dr Al-Kahn. She then came to New Jersey, where she has family, to seek further treatment.

Dr Al-Kahn said the mother had a normal ultrasound early in her pregnancy, and that another one last week showed birth defects, including microcephaly, in which the baby's head is smaller than expected because the brain has not developed properly.

The doctor said the baby looks "completely Zika affected", and while further testing is required to confirm the virus, he is "90 to 95%" sure it is Zika.

"It was very sad for us to see a baby born with such a condition," he said.

Dr Al-Kahn said the prognosis for babies born with microcephaly, which also can signal underlying brain damage, is "generally very poor".

The mother is "hanging in there" said Dr Al-Kahn. "But of course what human being isn't going to be devastated by this news?"

Earlier this year, the CDC reported that a baby born in a Hawaii hospital was the first in the United States with microcephaly linked to the Zika virus.

A total of 10 countries so far reported cases of microcephaly linked to Zika, which is spread primarily through mosquito bites and can also be transmitted through sex. With more than 1,400 reported cases, Brazil has the most, by far.

The CDC has joined the World Health Organisation in recommending that pregnant women avoid travelling to Zika-affected countries. If pregnant women get infected, there is no known treatment to prevent them from stopping transmission of the virus to their unborn babies.

While Dr Al-Kahn described the New Jersey case as "absolutely devastating", he said he hopes it will serve as an "awakening call" for the country to take strong measures to prevent the disease.

"It's time for us to do something," he said.

PA Media

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