The method for reporting Zika cases has changed, and with that change the number of pregnant US women infected with the disease has suddenly tripled. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the reporting change on Friday and says that the count will now include all women who test positive for Zika regardless of symptoms. Previously the count included just women who manifested symptoms and had a positive blood test result.
There are 157 infected women in the 50 states. Under the old reporting system, that number stood at 48 last week. Experts caution that there doesn’t appear to be any dramatic increase in the number of cases and that the surge is attributed to the new reporting methodology.
Those same experts do, however, believe that mosquitoes will likely start spreading the virus in upcoming months as the weather gets warmer and mosquito populations increase. The virus spreads mainly through the bite of a tropical mosquito – normally found in the US in southern states. The reported cases throughout the US have been in people who have traveled to outbreak areas or who have had sex with someone who did.
The virus causes only a brief and mild illness in most people, but over the past year infections in pregnant women have been strongly linked to fetal deaths and to potentially devastating birth defects. Brazil is the most-effected country which is especially concerning as it prepares to host the upcoming Olympic Games and welcome thousands of visitors.
Only about one in five people infected with Zika develop the symptoms: fever, rash, red eyes, and joint pain. These symptoms normally last no longer than a week. Until very recently, doctors only recognized the connection between Zika and birth defects in women who showed the symptoms during their pregnancy. But newer studies of pregnant women who delivered babies with certain birth defects such as abnormally small heads indicate that they tested positive for the virus even though they had no noticeable symptoms.
The US Senate approved a $1.1 billion dollar plan to combat the Zika virus, while the US House of Representatives only approved $622 million, setting up difficult negotiations between the two bodies over how much funding to devote to the cause.
President Obama was briefed by top health officials and requested $1.9 billion in emergency funding to help develop a Zika virus. After the House and Senate votes he repeated his call for approval of the full requested amount.