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Many Zika-related birth defects went undetected

A new report suggests that more pregnant women in the U.S were infected by the Zika virus than previously thought. Researchers have documented a surge in total birth defects, including birth defects like microcephaly that are chiefly associated with Zika.

The research found that most of the mothers of those babies were never identified as carrying the Zika virus. Thus, the birth defects were not discovered until birth or months after the fact. Medical treatments were delayed and the parents had no opportunity to prepare the challenges of caring for a child with severe disabilities and medical issues.

The Zika threat turned out to be very real

The CDC says 7,000 pregnancies in the United States and its territories from January 2016 through December 2017 had evidence of possible Zika infection. The Zika virus is not harmful to adults and children, but very dangerous for pregnant women and their babies.

Zika is strongly associated with specific brain abnormalities and microcephaly, in which the infant’s head is notably smaller and partially collapsed. Other birth defects caused by Zika include eye damage, central nervous system disorders, and restricted movement of joints. The virus is also known to cause miscarriage and stillbirth.

While Zika infections have dwindled, the CDC expects more birth defect cases to be identified in 2018 as mothers who were infected last year give birth or discover their babies have disabilities.

While Zika is primarily spread by the Aedes mosquito, a pregnant mom can pass the virus to her fetus. Zika is also transmitted through unprotected sex.  In the U.S. and its territories, the main hotspots are Puerto Rico, South Texas and South Florida. But there were dozens of confirmed cases in Connecticut – not from local mosquitoes but from being bitten while traveling in tropical places.

What is the physician’s role in birth defects?

According to the CDC, most of the mothers whose babies were born with Zika birth defects were never diagnosed as infected with the virus. Either they were not tested, were not tested at the right time, or were incorrectly assumed not to have been exposed to Zika.

The risks of Zika for pregnant women or women trying to become pregnant were well known, even in early 2016. Any pregnant woman should have been tested as a precaution, particularly residents in southern states or expectant mothers who had visited the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America or South America.

Many birth defects or genetic markers for birth defects are detectable through prenatal screening. Some birth defects are treatable or correctable when detected early in the pregnancy. Even if the abnormalities or disabilities cannot be cured, parents and their medical providers are able to anticipate the needs and provide prompt treatment to those newborns.

For these reasons, failure to diagnose birth defects may constitute medical malpractice. Talk to an attorney if you believe your child’s medical condition was knowable or preventable, or if your child has birth injuries due to mistakes in prenatal care or labor and delivery.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

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