The recent Zika virus outbreak has once again brought the risk of birth defects to the forefront of the public mind. The 70-year old virus, which originates in South America and has no vaccine, has been known to cause microcephaly, or abnormally small head size, in children born to infected pregnant women.
Microcephaly is a serious condition that can lead to lifelong complications and even death. Several South American countries have warned women to avoid pregnancy until the Zika virus is under control, and the first case of sexually transmitted Zika virus was discovered in Texas after an infected man gave it to his partner upon returning from a trip.
Birth defects are an increasing concern for parents, especially those who are exposed to illnesses or medications during pregnancy. Many women who seek help from drugs to combat morning sickness could be at risk of giving birth to a child with birth defects.
Recently, celebrity Kim Kardashian was reprimanded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for endorsing a morning sickness drug on her social media without also including the risks of serious side effects, including birth defects. Doctors and patients have similarly called upon drug maker GlaxoSmithKline to warn patients of the risks of birth defects associated with Zofran, an anti-nausea drug that is not approved to treat morning sickness but has been promoted as a treatment for the condition.
GSK recently paid $3 billion to settle allegations that it illegally promoted drugs for off-label use, including Zofran for morning sickness. Meanwhile, studies have found that taking Zofran during pregnancy may lead to an increased risk of birth defects, including brain and heart defects.