The Zika epidemic in the U.S. may be worse than we thought, according to the latest reports from officials. It's officially hitting pregnant women—arguably the most at-risk group—in a big way. (Need a refresher? 7 Things You Should Know About the Zika Virus.)
On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that 279 pregnant women in the United States and its territories have confirmed cases of Zika—157 of the reported cases are in the continental United States and 122 are reported in U.S. territories like Puerto Rico.
These reports are significant (and scary) in a couple of ways. This count is the first to include all women who have had official laboratory confirmation of the Zika virus. Previously, the CDC was only tracking cases where women actually showed symptoms of Zika, but these numbers include women who might not have any outward symptoms but are still at risk for the devastating effects Zika can have on a fetus.
The new report also highlighted the fact that even if you don't show symptoms, Zika can still put your pregnancy at risk for microcephaly—a serious birth defect that causes a baby to be born with an abnormally small head due to abnormal brain development. And it's important to note that most people who have been infected by Zika don't show symptoms, which is all the more reason to talk to your doctor if you think there's any way you might be at risk. (But Let's Clear Up Some Facts About the Zika Virus for Olympians.)
According to the CDC, most of the 279 pregnant women with confirmed Zika infections contracted the virus while traveling abroad in high-risk areas. However, the agency also reports that some of the cases are the result of sexual transmission, underscoring the serious importance of using protection even during pregnancy. (FYI: More People Are Catching the Zika Virus As An STD.)
The bottom line: If you're pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant and you've been in a high-risk area for Zika, get yourself to your doctor stat. It can only help!