It seems there can be no remaining doubt that Zika causes birth defects. In a new edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, the CDC has officially stated the causal relationship between being infected with the mosquito-borne illness during pregnancy and adverse fetal outcomes.
Although studies have left little reason to believe there was not a link, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden told reporters Wednesday, "It is now clear...that Zika does cause microcephaly. We believe the microcephaly is likely to be part of a range of birth defects."
In other words, researchers may just be beginning to understand the range of defects caused by Zika. Other reports have indicated miscarriage and stillbirth can also occur, and that exposure during any stage of pregnancy can be deadly.
The incredibly alarming outbreak of the virus in Brazil and the subsequently high rates of microcephaly in newborn babies is what first suggested Zika was causing birth defects. But as NBC News reports, this is the first case of a mosquito-borne virus causing birth defects, so researchers are learning as they go about how to prevent, detect, and treat pregnant women and their fetuses.
In light of Wednesday's announcement, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reiterated that, for now, its previous recommendations on prevention and avoidance of the virus remain the same. The organization said in a statement:
"Obstetrician-gynecologists should be prepared to counsel their patients regarding the importance of postponing travel to affected areas if they are planning to become pregnant or if they are pregnant, as well as the potential need to delay pregnancy with appropriate use of contraception if women live in affected areas or if travel to these areas cannot be avoided."
Even with a travel advisory in place, and trying to educate couples that Zika can be sexually transmitted through semen and perhaps even saliva, the virus is making its way into the U.S., and is expected to be more prevalent as the hot, humid summer months draw near.
In other Zika-related news, a new study has linked the virus with a brain disorder in adults. So basically, no one is safe from the terrifying effects of this illness. The bottom line is that avoiding exposure is of paramount importance for everyone, and especially if you are pregnant.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.