The List Of Zika-Related Birth Defects Got Longer, Increasing The Negative Impact On Women And Babies

While Senate Republicans continue to steadfastly refuse adequate funding to protect the women and children vulnerable to Zika, the list of potential consequences of this inaction just grew some more. According to a report published in Scientific American this weekend, Zika-related birth defects likely include more than abnormally small heads and brain damage. New research, which will be presented next week at a conference in San Antonio, Texas, links Zika exposure in the womb with “serious joint problems, seizures, vision impairment, trouble feeding and persistent crying.”

One study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found 29 percent of pregnant women who tested positive for Zika had fetuses with abnormalities apparent via ultrasound. But even when women affected by Zika give birth to babies that don’t have microcephaly and appear healthy in ultrasounds and at birth, “they can go on to have health issues including seizures and developmental delays that only become apparent in the weeks and months after birth.”

The study, conducted by Brazilian researchers, followed 83 infants born since August 2015 to mothers believed to have been infected with Zika. It’s worth noting that it’s only confirmed that 10 of the 83 mothers who participated in the study had Zika and the others are only believed to have been infected.

About 10 percent of the 83 babies studied had “knee or elbow joint limitations so severe that the infants cannot fully extend their arms or legs,” while almost half of the babies had joint problems impeding finger or toe motion, or specific limb anomalies like clubfeet. Half of the babies studied had seizures and “abnormal eye exams.” Other research has connected Zika babies with autism, A.D.H.D., epilepsy, and various mental illnesses.

The Zika virus itself has relatively mild symptoms, and it typically lasts less than a week. But the results of this study only reaffirm its disproportionate consequences for women who want to be mothers and children.

Around the world, alarming numbers of pregnant women are currently affected by Zika. According to one report, 12,000 pregnant women in Colombia are affected by the virus. Predominantly Catholic countries in the deeply affected region, such as Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Ecuador, Honduras, Venezuela, and others, place severe restrictions on abortion, in some cases banning it point-blank regardless of whether the pregnant woman is a victim of rape.

However, abortion rates through pills or the black market have soared since the outbreak began, proving abortion restrictions won’t actually stop women who desperately need them. Denying women dignity and choice and ignoring the most basic science about embryonic development for the sake of imposing a religious ideology is clearly now far more than a frustrating political game — it poses a critical health risk to generations of human beings, and even babies able to miraculously dodge microcephaly could still suffer serious defects, according to the new research.

In the U.S., Zika has also become a serious concern, with roughly 500 pregnant women affected as of late June, while Dallas County alone just confirmed its 12th case of Zika on Tuesday. However, surprising literally no one, Congress has somehow managed to make this a partisan issue.

President Obama previously requested $1.9 billion for research, preventive resources like insect repellent, and healthcare for women already affected. Congress responded by offering $1.1 billion, most of which comes from emergency Ebola funding. Additionally, the bill offered by Congress slashes access to birth control and Planned Parenthood, also known as the best resources to actually help women and prevent the births of severely affected babies.

 

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White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded to Congress, offering this statement in a press briefing:

“It is clear that once again, Republicans have put political games ahead of the health and safety of the American people, particularly pregnant women and their babies. … This plan from congressional Republicans is four months late and nearly a billion dollars short of what our public health experts have said is necessary to do everything possible to fight the Zika virus, and steals funding from other health priorities.”

It’s pretty difficult to view the anti-choice lawmakers seeking to limit funding to protect women from Zika as “pro-life,” when they’re willing to prioritize personal ideologies over the dignities and standards of living of Zika-affected women and babies. New research reveals the consequences of having a child while affected by Zika reach farther and deeper than originally thought, and it’s time for Congress to respond fittingly.