The Zika virus is making major inroads into the United States this summer, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that about 2% of Puerto Rican adults now contract the virus every month. In a press conference, CDC Director Tom Frieden announced that a quarter of the island territory’s 3.5 million residents will be infected by the end of 2016.
“Close to 90 percent of adults in Puerto Rico have been infected with dengue [which is transmitted by the same mosquito as Zika], so we need to do everything possible to reduce the risk to pregnant women there,” Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said in March.
Already, 234 pregnant women in the continental United States have gotten the disease, which can cause serious birth defects in newborns. All this, and mosquito season has barely begun.
This June, health research firm HealthGrove compiled a list of the 10 U.S. cities most at risk for serious Zika infection rates, and New York City placed at number five on the list. While it’s unlikely that the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus will be present in upstate New York this summer, New York City will have a “moderate” amount of the bugs this summer, as well as one to two million people traveling to the city from Zika-affected countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Millions of women in those countries are now being advised not to become pregnant, while several high-profile athletes have dropped out of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil because of the virus.
Over the last century, childbirth has become much safer, but the Zika virus is creating new risks for expectant mothers. Each year around the globe, about 28,000 infants are born with a birth injury and 120,000 with birth defects, a small percentage of the total number of newborns (four million babies will be born in the United States this year alone). However, the Zika virus greatly increases the risk of both fetal death and microcephaly, a birth defect that causes abnormally small brains and head size.
So far in 2016, the Zika cases within the contiguous United States were contracted either while traveling or through sexual contact with an infected person. But with mosquito season kicking into gear, health officials around the country are bracing for the worst.
In Miami, which was rated the number one most at-risk city in the country, the Zika-carrying mosquitoes are present year round, while at least one million travelers from affected countries will pass through Miami this year.
The CDC is paying close attention to the infection rate in Puerto Rico, which shows just how quickly this disease can spread. At the beginning of March, there were only 117 confirmed cases in the territory. By June, that number had jumped to more than 1,700, including 191 pregnant women.
See what other U.S. cities have the highest risk profile at HealthGrove.