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CDC releases new information on Zika among pregnant women

CDC on Thursday announced it was monitoring more than 300 pregnant women in the continental United States and U.S. territories for the Zika virus, the New York Times reports (Tavernise, New York Times, 6/16).

Background on Zika virus

The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease that has spread across North and South America over the past year. Researchers recently learned that Zika can also be transmitted through sexual activity. The virus is not easily diagnosed, and it does not have a cure or vaccine. It is linked to the birth defect microcephaly, a condition in which an infant is born with an abnormally small head and brain. The condition is fatal for some infants, while others experience permanent disabilities.

Officials in Brazil and Honduras have issued guidance recommending that women avoid pregnancy. El Salvador's recommendation is that women not get pregnant until 2018. However, many countries in Latin America restrict access to contraception and often ban abortion. In addition, women have been advised to protect themselves against mosquitos, but insect repellant can be unaffordable for low-income women.

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak and its link to microcephaly a public health emergency of international concern. Separately, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement directing nations affected by the Zika virus to remove bans on access to sexual and reproductive health care services.

U.S. response efforts

The White House has called for $1.9 billion to combat the virus. Amid congressional delays on the funding request, a senior administration official in April said the administration would transfer more than $500 million in funding allocated to combating the Ebola virus to Zika response efforts.

Congressional lawmakers currently are working to merge the House (HR 5243) and Senate (SA 3900) funding proposals, both of which fall short of the full $1.9 billion and include antiabortion-rights language.

In May, CDC announced that it will allocate more than $85 million to U.S. states and territories to combat the Zika virus. Separately, CMS in June announced that states may use Medicaid funding to cover preventive measures, including contraception and family planning services, to combat the virus' spread (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/15).

CDC's latest update

CDC on Thursday said the agency is monitoring 234 pregnant women in U.S. states and 189 women in U.S. territories who have the Zika virus (Sun, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 6/16).

CDC did not disclose how many of the pregnant women with Zika had given birth. However, agency officials reported six instances of fetal anomalies among pregnant women with Zika, including among women who showed no symptoms of infection. Three of the pregnancies ended before birth. CDC did not share birth information on Zika-infected women in U.S. territories.

The agency said some of the six cases involved microcephaly, while others involved other anomalies that were not the result of microcephaly (New York Times, 6/16). According to CDC, whether Zika infection caused the fetal anomalies is undetermined ("To Your Health," Washington Post, 6/16). Overall, researchers estimate that Zika infection during early pregnancy will result in birth defects in 1 to 15 percent of pregnancies (Stobbe, AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/16).

Denise Jamieson, head of CDC's women's health and fertility branch, said, "What we're seeing is a very consistent pattern underscoring the fact that Zika causes microcephaly and other severe brain [anomalies]." She continued, "This highlights the importance of preventing unintended pregnancies, avoiding mosquito bites and for pregnant women to avoid traveling to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission."

Thursday's update marks the first time CDC has released a tally of cases involving Zika-related fetal anomalies in the United States ("To Your Health," Washington Post, 6/16). The agency will release information on Zika-related pregnancy outcomes among women in U.S. territories in future reports, updated on a weekly basis (New York Times, 6/16).

In total, there have been 756 reported cases of Zika in U.S. states. The cases were all the result of travel to areas where Zika is transmitting locally or sexual contact with someone who had traveled to such areas. As of CDC's update, there has been no local transmission of Zika virus in U.S. states (AP/Sacramento Bee, 6/16).

Response legislation could see vote next week

In related news, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Thursday said if House and Senate lawmakers produce a final conference committee report, the House might vote on the Zika funding legislation next week, Roll Call reports.

Lawmakers tasked with conferencing on Zika response legislation met for the first time on Wednesday. According to Roll Call, Congress is in session for one more month before a more than seven-week recess (Roll Call, 6/16).