The mosquito-borne Zika virus has been a topic of concern in the United States for months now, but now that a baby with Zika-related microcephaly was born in New Jersey on Tuesday, the once-abstract fear has become uncomfortably real. According to CNN, an unnamed pregnant woman visiting the United States from Honduras arrived at the Hackensack University Medical Center on Friday, where tests revealed that her almost-full-term baby had signs of "significant microcephaly," consistent with the Zika virus. While microcephaly, a birth defect resulting in an abnormally small head and restricted brain development, can occur for reasons other than the Zika virus, Zika-related microcephaly tends to be very severe, causing major disabilities and neurological issues.
The hospital's director of maternal and fetal medicine, Dr. Abdulla Al-Khan, told CNN that the mother and her doctors in Honduras suspected she had contracted the virus after she developed a fever and a rash in her second trimester. Once she was admitted to hospital in New Jersey, she was tested for Zika, and her diagnosis was confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Following her C-section delivery, Al-Khan said, "the mother is stable, obviously sad, which is the normal emotional reaction given the situation."
Although this case of microcephaly did not originate in the United States, it is thought to be one of the first in the continental U.S. where a baby has been born with the condition because of the Zika virus — and is the first time a Zika-related birth has occurred in the northeast, according to Al-Khan.
According to The New York Times, the first baby in the United States with Zika-related microcephaly was born in Hawaii in January, to a mother who was living in Brazil while in her first trimester. According to CBS News, there have been almost 600 travel-related reported cases of the Zika virus in the continental United States, although, the situation is much more dire in U.S. territories, like Puerto Rico, where over 900 cases of Zika were confirmed as of the beginning of May, according to TIME. According to the CDC, there are currently more than 300 pregnant women with the virus in the United States and its territories.
While the mother of the baby born in New Jersey did not contract Zika in the United States, the birth is an important reminder of how dangerous the virus can be for pregnant women and their unborn children. Dr. Manny Alvarez, chairman of Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at the Hackensack University Medical Center, where Tuesday's birth occurred, told the New York Times, “it tells you that Zika is real. There is still a lot of work to be done insofar as controlling this virus.”
While Zika-related complications are still rare in the United States, it seems that it will only be a matter of time before they affect more people and become more commonplace — making awareness, and prevention even more important as mosquito season arrives throughout the country.