Minnesota has received a $200,000 federal grant to help track and report one of the leading concerns about the mosquito-borne Zika virus — a brain defect known as microcephaly that can occur in the newborns of infected mothers.
Announced Tuesday along with $16 million to other states, the funding is designed to provide “real-time data about the Zika epidemic as it unfolds in the United States and territories and will help those most devastated by this virus,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
More than 1,600 Americans, including 21 Minnesotans, contracted confirmed Zika infections this year when traveling to the Caribbean or South American nations where the virus has spread. And just last week, federal authorities reported the first domestic cases — four people bitten by infected mosquitoes in a Miami neighborhood.
Most Zika infections result in mild or no symptoms. But in pregnant women, infections can cause severe birth defects, including microcephaly, which is diagnosed when babies have abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development.
The Minnesota Department of Health already is maintaining a registry of residents with Zika infections, particularly pregnant women. The additional funding will allow the department’s birth defects monitoring and analysis unit to stay in contact with doctors and learn before babies are born whether they appear at risk for defects.
“We are going to work on increasing how quickly we can identify children who might have microcephaly,” said Barbara Frohnert, who supervises the unit.
If prenatal tests determine the babies are at risk for microcephaly or other defects, the unit can alert epidemiologists who are tracking the Zika outbreak, and work with families of the newborns to make sure they have access to appropriate services right away.
Despite the emergence of Zika in the United States, the risk of it spreading by mosquitoes in Minnesota is thought to be low. One type of mosquito that carries the virus isn’t found in Minnesota and a second is only thought to reach the southern third of the state.
The federal government has issued travel warnings for women who are pregnant or considering getting pregnant. Because the virus can be spread through sexual activity, the CDC also has provided safe sex recommendations to partners who have returned from countries and states in which Zika has been confirmed.