Though Zika is no longer breaking out in U.S. cities, it's still a very real threat that has some pregnant women nervous about possibly contracting the virus, which can cause birth defects. But moms worried about Zika might be able to breath easier, thanks to a new study. A pregnant woman who gets sick from the Zika virus faces a 7 percent chance that their child will be born with birth defects, which is actually lower than I might have guessed after all the previous talk of the serious birth defects babies born to Zika-infected mothers could face. It's still not exactly comforting, however, and any exposure to Zika during pregnancy is still worrisome, but the results of the study may make some moms feel better.
The results are thanks to a new study conducted in French territories in the Americas, according to Yahoo! News, and the estimate doesn't reportedly include developmental problems that are less obvious that may show up later on in life. Plus, the study only included women who got sick and showed symptoms; it didn't include women who may have been infected with Zika but didn't experience symptoms — a whopping 80 percent of cases, Yahoo! News reported.
The Zika virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her unborn fetus, and infection during pregnancy may cause a birth defect called microcephaly as well as other severe fetal brain defects, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Microcephaly is a birth defect in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected as compared to babies of the same sex and age, and babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that haven't developed properly, the CDC reported.
While microcephaly is a significant birth defect that pregnant women should take seriously, this new study suggests that the chances of it happening to a baby born to a Zika-infected mother may be lower than previously determined. The risk of "congenital neurologic defects related to Zika virus" has ranged anywhere from 6 to 42 percent in different reports in the past, according to The New England Journal of Medicine, where the recent study was published. And as serious as it is that any baby be affected by Zika, 7 percent is a lot lower than 42 percent.
Notably, the risk of a pregnant woman who becomes ill from Zika having a child with birth defects jumps to almost 13 percent if she gets sick during the first trimester, Reuters reported. And while that's worrying, it's still not as high as some reports have previously found.
The study followed "pregnant women with symptomatic ZIKV infection that was confirmed by polymerase-chain-reaction (PCR) assay" from March 2016 through November 2016, with data collected until April 27, 2017. Five-hundred-fifty-five fetuses and infants were included in the analysis, and the 527 surviving babies in this new study will be followed for at least two years, according to Global News. That's so researchers can monitor for developmental problems that might not show up early on, according to the study's conclusion section.
Make no mistake, there is still a "serious global health threat to pregnant women and their infants posed by congenital ZIKV infection," according to an editorial written by Dr. Margaret Honein of the CDC in Atlanta for The New England Journal of Medicine. But any woman who is worried about Zika and may have believed that contracting it during pregnancy definitely leads to serious birth defects can at least be armed with more information and hopefully rest a little easier, thanks to this study.
And in any case, every study about Zika-related complications during or after pregnancy gets us one step closer to better understanding the virus and just how dangerous it is for pregnant women and their babies. Thanks to this study, researchers have put together yet another piece of this health puzzle.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.