Harris County Public Health has confirmed the first Zika virus-linked case of microcephaly in a newborn baby, meaning the infant was born with an abnormally small head.
According to HCPH, the mother of the newborn had spent most of her early pregnancy in Colombia and moved to Harris County during her third trimester. Suffering flu-like symptoms, the woman was tested for Zika, but the test results came back inconclusive: She was positive for both Zika and another mosquito-transmitted disease, dengue. When her baby was born, however, the baby, along with having microcephaly, tested positive for Zika, leading doctors to believe the mother had been carrying the virus all along.
This case, then, would be the fifth in which a pregnant woman in the Houston area contracted the Zika virus after traveling to Latin America; all four others (one from Fort Bend County) were confirmed to have the virus at the Houston-based Legacy Community Health clinic. The Fort Bend County woman had her baby recently, however, and Legacy spokesman Kevin Nix said the baby was born without the defect.
He told the Houston Press last week, "We see over 200 pregnant women a day at our southwest clinic, and there's an increasing anxiety among all of our patients."
For any others who contract Zika, which can only be spread when a mosquito bites a person who already has Zika or through sex with someone who has the virus, the symptoms are generally flu-like and can last several days. As of June 29, the City of Houston had recorded 11 of these cases, and the HCPH said last week that it had confirmed seven other cases in the surrounding areas in Harris County.
Mayor Sylvester Turner had asked Governor Greg Abbott to declare Zika a public health emergency last month; that way, Houston could access millions in already-available prevention funds. Prevention, Turner said, is much cheaper than medical bills city and state officials estimate could be as high as $10 million by the time a child with microcephaly reaches age ten.
Dr. Umair Shah, with HCPH, said there is little doctors can do once it is clear during the woman's pregnancy that the baby will be born with microcephaly, save for increased monitoring. Once the child is born, Shah said, doctors are unable to predict what developmental delays or disabilities may result from the defect in the future.
"That's the sad part about this," Shah said, "and that's why it's so important for us to really push the prevention message. We need to get the message out to as many people as possible: Zika is not something we can just dismiss. Especially for pregnant women. There's nothing that you can do after it has been done."