Zika threat grows: Olympic fears escalate, 3 US babies born with defects


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 400 pregnant women in the United States have contracted Zika and three of the women have given birth to babies with defects.

A total of 423 pregnant women in U.S. states and territories have contracted the virus, according to data from the CDC’s U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry, with 234 cases reported in U.S. states and the District of Columbia and 189 in territories like Puerto Rico, which is being hit particularly hard by the outbreak.

As more people in the U.S. catch Zika, concerns about citizens traveling to the epicenter of the virus outbreak for the Olympics in Rio de Janiero are growing louder. A commentary from U.S. News & World Report calls for the cancellation of the Olympics altogether, estimating that the number of attendees who may contract the virus range between 1.8 cases per million tourists to as many as 3.2 cases per 100,000 tourists, who would likely bring the virus back to their home countries.

The World Health Organization has maintained that the risk of the spread of Zika caused by the Olympics is low, despite calls to postpone or cancel the games, but it has also said that millions of dollars will be needed to combat infections and the birth defects--which include microcephaly. The WHO says more than $120 million will be needed to battle the outbreak in the Americas, according to an article from Reuters, and that young women will need to be a specific target for support.

Ongoing research tracks the impact of the virus on pregnant women and their babies, but preliminary findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggest that women who catch Zika during the third trimester have a much lower risk of birth defects in the newborn.

In the U.S., some health experts have expressed concern that women's restricted access to contraceptives and preventive healthcare could stymie needed support, according to an article from Kaiser Health News. States like Florida and Texas have declined to expand Medicaid, according to the article, and have put restrictions on women’s clinics that hamper education efforts. Those states, which are both high-risk locations for Zika transmission, are instead trying to control mosquitoes that carry the virus, according to KHN, but opponents say it misses the high-stakes for pregnant women who contract it.

- here’s the CDC’s data on cases and birth defects
- read the US News commentary
- view the WHO’s statement on the Olympics
- check out the Reuters article
- read KHN’s coverage