Four additional babies have been born with congenital Zika virus syndrome in New York City, health officials announced Wednesday the first serious birth defects attributed to the emerging pathogen since an initial case was reported in July.
Two other babies also have been born in New York with Zika-related birth defects, the State Health Department said Wednesday. However, the state official, responding to an email query from Newsday, would not say when or where the cases occurred.
“That’s just a rule we have involving a small number of patients,” a state spokeswoman said. “It’s to protect patients.”
Of the seven cases that have occurred in New York, all are related to travel in endemic regions of the world where the infection is prevalent, officials said.
New York City’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, meanwhile, used her announcement of the four additional cases as an opportunity for public-health education.
“Today’s news is a reminder that Zika continues to be a threat to pregnant women and their babies,” Bassett said in a statement. “As we enter the holiday season, we urge all pregnant women in New York City, those who might become pregnant, and their male sexual partners not to visit places where there is active Zika virus transmission.”
She said public health officials in the city “are closely following all babies born to mothers who test positive for Zika infection and will connect parents to available services to improve their child’s quality of life.”
Babies born with congenital Zika syndrome can have any one or a combination of health problems. The most widely reported condition — microcephaly — was first recognized by doctors in Brazil, an epicenter of infections.
Microcephaly is marked by small head and brain size, mental retardation and the need for lifelong assistance.
The newborn whose case was reported by Bassett in July — possibly the first Zika-related birth defect in New York — also had microcephaly.
Yet the condition isn’t the only birth anomaly related to the Zika virus, which can be transmitted by mosquitoes or passed sexually. Babies may have other abnormalities associated with the syndrome, doctors say.
“Some babies have been born with decreased [amounts of] brain tissue and [brain] calcifications,” said Dr. Robert Ambler, a dean and professor of public health and pediatrics at New York Medical College in Valhalla.
Much has yet to be learned about how the Zika virus causes fetal harm, Ambler said, noting that “all three trimesters have to be considered at risk for Zika complications.”
There is no vaccine for Zika, however, Ambler said, so the only protection is taking precautions — avoiding travel to Zika-affected regions and practicing safe-sex when a partner has traveled to those parts of the world.
In New York, there is no evidence of mosquitoes spreading the virus, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine and hospital epidemiologist at South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside.
“Zika would be a footnote in history without the potentially horrific microcephaly and other problems in utero,” Glatt said.
Along with the four cases involving the syndrome reported by Bassett on Wednesday, eight additional infants have been born in New York City who have tested positive for the virus but have not displayed symptoms of congenital Zika virus syndrome.
Ambler said not having noticeable problems does not mean a child is in the clear because subtler brain anomalies may not become evident for years.
Zika fast facts
Overall, there have been more cases of Zika viral infections in New York than in any other state.
— All New York cases have involved travel.
— Seven babies statewide have been born with Zika congenital syndrome.
— The syndrome can include microcephaly, small head and brain size; loss of brain mass but normal head size; calcifications in the brain, problems with vision and shortened or hardened muscles and tendons.
— Some babies born to Zika infected mothers have no evidence of ill-effects. Eight babies born New York City had the virus in their blood but no evident problems
— Overall, there have been 921 cases of Zika infections in New York since the beginning of the year, affecting people of all ages and both genders.
— Suffolk and Nassau counties rank second and third in Zika infections after New York City: 55 cases have been documented in Suffolk; 52 in Nassau and 690 in NYC. The rest have occurred in other NY counties.
— In New York City alone, more than 200 infants have been born to women with Zika virus infection during pregnancy.
Sources: New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention