The number of Zika cases in Puerto Rico rapidly continues to climb, with federal officials warning Friday that the spread of the virus there could lead to hundreds of children being born with severe defects in the coming year.
Health officials said that as of July 7, 5,582 people in the US territory had been diagnosed with Zika, including 672 pregnant women. Of the pregnant women, about one third of them — 231 women — did not have symptoms, leading officials to warn that there could be many more pregnant women in Puerto Rico who are unknowingly infected with the virus.
The Puerto Rico Department of Health, which tallies its numbers through a different method than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday it had counted 788 pregnant women with Zika, 256 of whom were asymptomatic. The local health department said Puerto Rico has had 7,296 total confirmed Zika cases.
Experts think that up to 80 percent of people who contract Zika do not show symptoms.
Even people who do show symptoms typically only experience a few days of rash, fever, body ache, and red eyes. But the virus can pass from pregnant women to fetuses and cause serious birth defects, including a condition called microcephaly, in which children are born with underdeveloped brains and abnormally small heads. Scientists are also investigating whether Zika increases the risk of miscarriage.
Puerto Rico has seen 21 cases of confirmed or suspected Guillain-Barre syndrome as a result of a Zika infection or an unspecified infection from a virus in Zika’s family. The condition leads to a gradual and generally temporary paralysis, but many patients have to be put on breathing machines at some point.
Residents of 77 out of 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico have tested positive for Zika.