By Mary Jo Layton
A 31-year-old woman from Honduras, a nation ravaged by the Zika virus, gave birth to a baby girl suffering from the devastating effects of the virus on Tuesday at Hackensack University Medical Center, the first believed to be born with microcephaly in the continental United States, her physician said.
The mother, who was not identified, contracted the disease in Honduras after being bitten by a mosquito early in her pregnancy. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that she was infected with the Zika virus, said Dr. Manny Alvarez, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Hackensack.
The baby was delivered "uneventfully" at 3 p.m. by cesarean section after an ultrasound on Friday confirmed the birth defects _ low birth weight and severe microcephaly, a condition in which the baby's head is smaller than expected. It can lead to seizures, developmental delays, hearing loss and severe mental disabilities, Alvarez said. The baby also has intestinal and visual issues, Alvarez said.
The baby "came out crying," and the mother looked sad, the doctor said. "You could see the pain in her heart," Alvarez said of the mother.
There have been 591 cases of Zika diagnosed in the United States, but it was not clear on Tuesday whether there have been any other cases of babies born with serious defects because of the virus in the continental U.S. Earlier this year, the CDC reported that a baby was born with microcephaly related to the Zika virus in Hawaii.
In the Hackensack case, the mother had been visiting relatives after arriving in the United States a little more than a month ago. Alvarez declined to say where she was staying.
Before coming to the United States, she was monitored by physicians in Honduras after her mother, a microbiologist, shipped a blood sample to the CDC in Atlanta to confirm she had contracted Zika, Alvarez said. She told doctors in Hackensack on Friday that "something is wrong with my baby's brain," Alvarez said.
"We saw on the ultrasound the baby was highly affected with multiple congenital abnormalities, including severe microcephaly," Alvarez said.
The hospital determined the woman, who was 35 weeks pregnant, was at risk for Zika and contacted state health officials and the CDC, Alvarez said. She was not admitted Friday but returned Tuesday for a follow-up visit, Alvarez said.
"Our high-risk team saw the baby was not doing well," Alvarez said. "We decided the baby needed to be delivered." Alvarez assembled a team of experts including neonatologists, infectious disease experts and others. The baby, born a little more than one month premature, weighed less than 6 pounds at birth, Alvarez said.
The CDC registry of pregnant women who have been confirmed to have Zika virus lists 168 women in the United States, and 142 in U.S. Territories, including Puerto Rico, as of May 19. Of those, fewer than 12 had "adverse outcomes," including birth defects or miscarriage, and the majority of pregnancies are ongoing, CDC officials said last month.
The CDC has issued a travelers' alert for U.S. citizens going to the Central American nation of Honduras. The agency says that all the cases of Zika in the United States were the result of traveling abroad. The virus typically is spread by mosquitoes but can also be spread by sexual contact.
Alvarez said the mother, whose husband is home in Honduras, accepted that her baby, her second child, would have challenges. He said she had told him that she wanted to talk publicly about her baby because "people have to know Zika can destroy a perfect life. I want to make sure people are careful and take precautions."
(Staff writer Lindy Washburn contributed to this report.)
(c)2016 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)