The report, published today in the journal Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), includes data on completed pregnancies in the 50 states and the District of Columbia with laboratory evidence of possible recent Zika virus infection reported to the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry from January 15 to December 27, 2016.
The CDC released the news on Tuesday as part of its "Vital Signs" report.
'Zika continues to be a threat to pregnant women across the United States, ' said CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat. "With warm weather, a new mosquito season and summer travel rapidly approaching, prevention is crucial to protect the health of mothers and babies".
"Prevention is key", Honein said.
The CDC reported 1,297 pregnant women in 44 states were reportedly possibly infected with the Zika virus with the vast majority infected, while traveling outside of the U.S. But testing for the virus is complicated because there is a narrow window of time that would show the infection on lab tests.
Almost 1,300 pregnant women with evidence of possible Zika infection were reported to the registry.
The problems included undersized heads and brain damage (microcephaly), but also seizures, difficulties with vision, hearing and movement, and developmental delays, such as trouble sitting up and eating, said CDC acting director Anne Schuchat.
For this reason, the CDC now recommends babies infected with Zika have ultrasounds or CT scans of their brains to evaluate any abnormalities not apparent at birth.
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In 2016, a total of 1,297 pregnant women with possible possible Zika infection were reported to the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry, the report said.
The risk for birth defects was even higher, about 15 percent, among mothers infected during the first trimester of pregnancy, according to the CDC. "Healthcare providers have an important role, and we encourage them to ask about possible Zika exposure when caring for both pregnant women and their babies and to follow CDC guidance for evaluation and care of infants with possible Zika infection".
"Zika virus is causing a lot of anxiety among my patients and their partners, who are accustomed to traveling for work or to visit family", says Siobhan Dolan, MD, MPH, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and medical advisor to the March of Dimes.
Babies with possible infection need testing and brain imaging after birth, Wu added.
Even more disturbing, the risk for birth defects is nearly certainly higher than the study suggests, because three-fourths of the infants born to mothers with some evidence of Zika infection did not receive the recommended brain imaging after birth.
Every mosquito bite carries a risk, Schuchat said, and therefore preventing mosquito bites is critical to keep pregnant women and their babies safe. Pregnancies in Puerto Rico, which has by far the largest number of Zika infections of anywhere in the United States, are being tracked separately.
In addition, the CDC reported in March that the threat of Zika was even greater for South Florida than previously understood - with a heightened risk since June 2016 for residents in Broward and Palm Beach counties because of local travel patterns and challenges in identifying all areas where the virus was spreading. Because of limitations of testing, only tests done within the first few weeks of Zika can test specifically for the Zika virus. Researchers found that of 250 pregnant women who were tested and found positive for Zika infection, 24 had infants or fetuses with birth defects.
The new study appears in the CDC's April 4 Vital Signs report.