The Zika virus outbreak claimed its first known life in the United States when a baby who tested positive for the virus and developed birth defects died in Texas, health officials said Tuesday.
The baby was born in a Houston-area Harris County hospital several weeks ago and exhibited birth defects including microcephaly, or an abnormally small head, that are associated with the virus. The child’s mother is believed to have contracted Zika while traveling abroad in El Salvador and wasn’t aware she had it.
As of August 3, there were 1,818 travel-reported cases of Zika virus in U.S. states. But the number of infections transmitted from local mosquitoes in Florida has also been growing – and the spread is expected to get worse in the coming months, Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine, told Fortune in a recent interview.
Click here to subscribe to our upcoming Brainstorm Health Daily Newsletter.
Pregnant women who contract Zika either from mosquitoes or sex with an infected partner have somewhere between a 1 in 100 and 1 in 13 chance of giving birth a baby with developmental problems.
“The case highlights that Zika is not just producing babies with small heads… We should expect many similar deaths, and also stillbirths,” said Hotez of the Houston baby’s death in an interview with USA Today.
“Zika’s impact on unborn babies can be tragic, and our hearts are with this family,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner, in a statement. “Our central mission from the beginning has been to do everything we can to protect unborn babies from the devastating effects of Zika.”
Texas officials emphasized that they would continue to pursue prevention efforts such as keeping the population of mosquitoes that carry Zika at bay. Experts recommend that people protect themselves from infection by wearing long sleeves, practicing safe sex, and using insect repellent with DEET, among other measures.