The death of a newborn in the Houston area has been linked to the Zika virus, Texas public health officials said Tuesday.
The infant’s mother had traveled to Latin America during her pregnancy and was infected there by the virus, according to the Department of State Health Services. Her baby acquired the virus while in the womb and was born with microcephaly, a rare congenital condition that can cause an abnormally small head and underdeveloped brain.
Thousands of microcephaly cases have surfaced in countries wrestling with the Zika virus, most notably Brazil. And a growing body of scientific research has detailed the serious and extensive risks Zika poses to fetal development.
“Zika’s impact on unborn babies can be tragic, and our hearts are with this family,” Jon Hellerstedt, the Texas health commissioner, said in a statement. “Our central mission from the beginning has been to do everything we can to protect unborn babies from the devastating effects in Zika.”
Several other cases of babies with microcephaly have been documented in the United States in recent months – and some women with Zika have chosen to have abortions after ultrasounds showed a high likelihood of serious complications – but the Texas case appears to be the only one in which a microcephalic infant died shortly after birth.
As of July 28, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was monitoring 479 pregnant women in the United States for whom there was laboratory evidence of a Zika infection, regardless of whether they had displayed symptoms such as fever, rash or joint pain. In addition, the CDC is monitoring another 493 pregnant women with Zika in U.S. territories, particularly Puerto Rico, where the virus has been spreading.
Texas officials said Tuesday that 97 travel-related cases of Zika have been reported in the state, including two infants with microcephaly in Harris County. No cases have been reported of local transmission of Zika.
For the moment, South Florida remains the only place in the country where mosquitoes have spread the virus. Public health officials there have documented at least 17 cases of locally acquired Zika infections, with nearly all occurring in the Wynwood community just north of downtown Miami.