Zika defect

Michelle Flandez had just given birth to her first son, but doctors in this U.S. territory whisked him away before she could see him.

Perplexed, she demanded him back and then slowly unwrapped the blanket that covered him.

“My husband and I looked at each other,” she recalled. “No one had warned us. No one had given us the opportunity to decide what to do.”

It was mid-October, and in her arms lay what health officials announced as the first known baby born in Puerto Rico with a rare birth defect that has been linked to the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Those with microcephaly have abnormally small heads and often suffer impeded brain growth and other problems.

The island, already struggling with a shortage of doctors and funds amid a worsening economic crisis, has more than 35,700 Zika cases, including nearly 3,000 involving pregnant women. Some 300 people overall have been hospitalized and five have died, including at least two who developed complications from a paralysis condition linked to Zika known as Guillain-Barre.

Since the birth of Flandez’s son, named Inti after an Inca sun god, four other babies have been born in Puerto Rico with birth defects linked to Zika, including microcephaly. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has projected a surge in cases next year. A study by the CDC estimates that up to 10,300 pregnant women in Puerto Rico could be infected with Zika and that between 100 and 270 babies could be born with microcephaly. The U.S. mainland, meanwhile, has reported more than 30 cases of birth defects linked to Zika.

While Flandez had symptoms of Zika early in her pregnancy, she said she was told that tests showed a false positive. Sonograms in August and September showed no problems.

Flandez ran a finger through the silky dark hair on Inti’s tiny head on Friday as she described the challenges of raising her 3-month-old son on an island in economic crisis. She called several pediatric neurologists after he was born and found just one who accepted Medicaid. The earliest appointment she could get was in October 2017.