Cases of Zika in Pregnant Women Triples in US

     (CN) — The number of pregnant women in the continental United States who are infected with the Zika virus has more than tripled, from 48 to 157, federal health officials said Friday.
     Another 122 pregnant women in Puerto Rico have tested positive for the virus.
     Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the new numbers primarily reflect a new case definition as opposed to a surge in infections.
     The CDC now includes all women who have either tested positive for the Zika virus or are likely positive based on antibodies. Antibodies tests are not as reliable since they can result in false positives for people who have had dengue virus or yellow fever.
     Dr. Margaret Honein, chief of the CDC’s birth defects unit, said that the agency is aware of “less than a dozen” babies or fetuses who have microcephaly or a range of other neurological birth defects linked to Zika.
     “The CDC’s top priority in the Zika response is protecting pregnant women and their fetuses,” Honein said during a conference call with reporters Friday.
     The new definition also includes women who don’t have symptoms, since a fetus can still suffer the consequences of the virus even when the mother doesn’t.
     CDC officials said there is not enough data to determine the likelihood that a Zika-positive pregnant woman will give birth to a baby with microcephaly or any of the other congenital disorders associated with the virus.
     It is unclear how the women contracted the virus, whether through sexual contact or if each of the cases came from mosquito bites while traveling outside of the United States.
     The World Health Organization said Friday that the same strain of Zika spreading through the Americas and the Caribbean has spread to the African nation of Cabo Verde, also called Cape Verde.
     This strain, called Asian type, is linked to microcephaly and other disorders, and began spreading in Brazil in 2015.
     “The findings are of concern because it is further proof that the outbreak is spreading beyond South America and is on the doorstep of Africa,” WHO regional director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said.
     There are more than 7,500 suspected Zika infections in Cape Verde and at least three cases of microcephaly.
     President Barack Obama again urged lawmakers to approve his requested funding bill after being briefed by health officials from the CDC, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday.
     “This is something that is solvable. It is not something that we have to panic about, but it is something that we need to take seriously,” he said.
     The Senate on Thursday approved a $1.1 billion spending package to fight the spread of Zika. Obama had previously requested $1.9 billion in Zika-related aid.
     The House of Representatives has been working on a much smaller allotment, however, which could threaten the Senate plan.

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