NEW YORK CITY — At least five babies have been born in New York City with Zika-related birth defects since July, the Health Department warned health care providers Wednesday morning.
Symptoms include brain, joint and eye abnormalities, stunted neurological development and a disproportionately small head.
The five babies born in New York City with those symptoms are a small fraction of the 200 born to women who tested positive for Zika infection during pregnancy, according to the bulletin first reported by the New York Times.
Pregnant women contract the virus either during travel to areas where mosquitoes carry the virus or through unprotected sex with a traveler.
The alert came several weeks after the World Health Organization downgraded the status of Zika's spread from an international public health emergency to a crisis.
Still, the Health Department advised doctors to continue screening pregnant women for exposure to Zika throughout pregnancy and to note that some negative testing results don't rule out Zika infection in women and their babies.
The mothers of three infants born with congenital Zika virus syndrome tested negative on two tests for infection; health officials hypothesize this was the case because the women weren't tested until their third trimester, long after their exposure to the virus.
From the start of 2016 through Dec. 2, 962 New Yorkers have tested positive for Zika infection, including 325 pregnant women, according to the Health Department numbers.
“Today’s news is a reminder that Zika continues to be a threat to pregnant women and their babies,” city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in a statement.
“We are closely following all babies born to mothers who test positive for Zika infection and will connect parents to available services to improve their child’s quality of life,” she said.
The agency is currently tracking the developmental progress of the 200 infants exposed to Zika during pregnancy, including eight who tested positive for the virus but haven't presented any symptoms.
In November, it launched an awareness campaign urging pregnant women and their partners not to travel to areas with ongoing Zika transmission, such as Miami-Dade County, the Caribbean and Central America, during the holiday season.