Nine pregnant women across the U.S. have been diagnosed with Zika virus, and one of those women has given birth to a baby with microcephaly, a rare birth defect that causes abnormally small head size and brain damage, the Centers for Disease Control said Friday.
Of the remaining infected women, two opted to have abortions after testing revealed fetal brain abnormalities in utero. Two cases ended in early miscarriages, two healthy babies were born, and two pregnancies are still continuing. Six of the nine cases, which included the abortions and diagnosed microcephaly, were contracted during the first trimester. The two women with healthy babies were infected in the second and third trimesters.
All diagnosed women contracted the mosquito-borne virus after traveling to one or more infected areas, including American Samoa, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Samoa.
“The bottom line for most Americans is, if you’re pregnant, don’t travel to Zika-affected areas,” Tom Friedan, director of the CDC, told Time. “And Americans who live in places like Puerto Rico, who are in areas where Zika is spreading, do everything you can to protect yourself against mosquito bites.”
The Zika virus has spread rapidly across the Americas, arriving in Brazil last May and creeping into 22 other countries and territories around the region. To date, there has been 84 travel-related Zika cases in the U.S., and locally transmitted cases have been reported in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. The virus’ spread has been accompanied by a steep increase in babies born with microcephaly and in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, an uncommon nervous system disease. This has raised the alarm among public health officials around the world.
“We really do expect that there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of travel-associated cases in the U.S.,” said Friedan. “There are more than 40 million travelers in the U.S. to Zika-affected countries every year. That’s a lot of people.”
The CDC is on its highest-level alert for Zika virus after the World Health Organization declared the disease a “global health emergency”–only the fourth time in the organization’s history that its given the label to a disease, joining the likes of polio, ebola, and influenza. The CDC has also declared Zika a nationally notifiable condition, meaning that all new cases are kept track in its central database, and it developed a voluntary registry to keep track of pregnant women with confirmed Zika virus infection and their infants.
Officials are also investigating 10 other cases of pregnant women in the US who may have Zika virus, according to the CDC. There’s been no Zika-related deaths or hospitalizations among pregnant women in the U.S.