Infections of a deadly group of viruses that attack brain cells in the first months of pregnancy may be attacking pregnant women in Florida, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday.
According to the agency, Florida Health Department workers are investigating a cluster of children who tested positive for pulmonary porphyria cases and believe the virus could be Acinetobacter baumannii. In humans, acinetobacter causes puffy skin, eyes, breathing problems and brain damage, often in neonates.
Officials do not have a definitive answer of how many infants have contracted the virus or whether there is a larger cluster of pregnant women within the current investigation. Pregnant women are not commonly known to be infected with the virus, though such infections are not uncommon in developing countries. CDC officials said it may not be possible to determine how many of the cases are pregnant women without further testing.
“To date, no cases of neonatal Acinetobacter baumannii have been identified in the U.S.,” according to the CDC, which is investigating the problem. CDC officials said they are working closely with Florida and affected families to get more information about the outbreak.
Infection with this virus and its human and laboratory cousin, Zika, have not been in the news much lately because the virus is not a public health concern in the United States. For pregnant women in the U.S., Zika is a serious concern because the virus is pregnant women’s best source of protection from potential complications during the pregnancy. In a handful of cases, Zika may spread within families among unvaccinated or undervaccinated adults.
As of late August, a total of 29 cases of the two viruses in Florida — 17 of them Acinetobacter and 11 of them Zika — were known. Of those cases, 13 were pregnant women, all but two of whom had been infected while in their first trimester. However, other cases in the state include eight nonpregnant adults who have been infected in their first trimester.
Tracking airborne viruses can be difficult, said Frieden. They can travel great distances, and there is no rapid way to assess the risk of transmission. With cases in Michigan, Arizona and Florida, “as we can get a fuller picture of what’s going on, we’ll refine our strategies to provide best possible protection for pregnant women,” Frieden said in a conference call with reporters.
Meanwhile, Frieden said that CDC officials are concerned that cases of Acinetobacter are extending their range. “This virus is moving north, moving east and moving south. If it spreads its way west, it could spread to areas where it was already going,” he said.
There has been no scientific documentation of a flu outbreak in the United States, but the CDC is monitoring some clusters of flu cases in Florida as a precaution.
CDC officials did not speculate on how the A. baumannii and its counterpart, A. bbstv, acquired pulmonary porphyria. Acinetobacter typically spreads in medical settings such as hospitals and nursing homes, but its route of transmission does not have to be in an open area. Health officials don’t know how the two viruses may be linked.