A U.S. territory that has strong ties to Lancaster County may be downplaying the impact of the Zika virus there, according to the health and science news publication STAT.
STAT said that although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimated that 100 to 270 babies born in Puerto Rico by mid-2017 would have birth defects because of the mosquito-borne virus, island officials have reported only 16.
"Some observers believe Puerto Rico, which is heavily dependent on tourism, is downplaying the scale of its Zika problem," the publication said.
It quoted a former U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity as saying it was clear months ago that “dozens and dozens” of babies there bore the hallmarks of Zika damage, but health officials declined to label most of them as such.
The CDC is not reporting information on how many babies in Puerto Rico have been affected by Zika, saying the island is using a different criteria than it does. But it says 3,461 pregnant women in U.S. territories have shown evidence of contracting Zika.
In U.S. states, where the CDC says 1,716 pregnant women have shown evidence of Zika, the agency reported 56 infants born with Zika- associated birth defects, and seven pregnancy losses with birth defects.
Research on the U.S. cases shows that if a mother gets Zika while pregnant, there's about a 5 percent risk that the baby will be born with severe birth defects, the agency estimated recently. That risk jumped to 10 percent for mothers whose Zika infections are confirmed, and 15 percent for those infected in the first trimester of pregnancy.
By late March, more than 1,000 babies had been born to mothers with Zika in Puerto Rico, according to NPR.
"Since Zika appeared in Puerto Rico more than a year ago, doctors believe as many as a million people on the island have been infected. Some 40,000 of those cases have been confirmed," it reported. "Epidemiologists expect to see fewer cases in Puerto Rico this year than last, but the disease is now endemic on the island."
This story was updated at 8:27 a.m. April 24 to clarify the description of STAT.