“Very alarming”

Severe fetal abnormalities from Zika not revealed by current CDC recommendations

A pregnant woman gets an ultrasound in Guatemala City. (JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The case of one pregnant woman from Washington D.C. who contracted the Zika virus after visiting Mexico, Guatemala and Belize last November, might possibly affect the way women are screened for the virus. The woman decided to get tested after her holiday, as she had muscle pain, a fever and a rash, and saw the alarming news stories about the Zika virus coming out. While it became clear that the woman, who was in the 20th week of her pregnancy, had contracted the mosquito-borne virus, a standard ultrasound did not reveal any signs of microcephaly or brain damage in her fetus. When doctors ran an MRI on the fetus and looked more closely, however, they noticed severe abnormalities in the brain. “The width of the brain was very, very thin … Some structures were completely missing,” said OB-GYN Rita Driggers, who saw the woman, and was allowed to study the fetus with her colleagues, after the woman had decided to terminate the pregnancy.

They published their findings — which could change the way pregnant women are currently being screened for the virus — in The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday. They believe that in this case, the virus had been hiding in the fetus and then infecting the mother. “So if you’re seeing the virus in the mom’s blood more than a week after symptoms, then perhaps what’s going on is that the baby is infected with Zika,” Driggers said. A second important finding is that — despite what the CDC currently recommends — only screening for Zika-related issues could be not enough, as in this case the doctors were able to see abnormalities in the brain through ultrasound and MRI before there were any signs of microcephaly. “This is very alarming” said Dr. Carla Janzen, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at UCLA who did not participate in the study told NPR. “If we see more cases like this,” the [CDC’s] guidelines will probably have to change.”

Read the full story at NPR.

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