Officials monitoring two Minnesota women who contracted Zika virus while pregnant

Baby born with microcephaly
The Zika virus can cause severe brain damage in developing fetuses, like this baby, Lara, who was born with microcephaly.
Felipe Dana | AP

Updated: 8:40 p.m. | Posted: 5:45 p.m.

State health officials are monitoring two Minnesota women who contracted the Zika virus while pregnant.

In one case, a woman traveled to El Salvador and then got sick. The other was a sexually transmitted infection from her husband who had been in Haiti.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

The mosquito-born infection can cause severe brain damage in developing fetuses. One woman has already had her baby. And so far there are no signs of a problem with that child, or in the other pregnancy.

Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger says the agency will track the mothers and babies for a year.

"Since this is a new virus, a new infection that we don't know it's natural history, we're going to have to follow some of these babies a lot longer than we would normally," Ehlinger said.

The Health Department is using funds from its maternal and child health program to monitor the women.

The department recently lost $760,000 in emergency funds that could have been tapped for Zika monitoring. The Centers for Disease Control withheld the money to cover its own Zika efforts following a protracted congressional battle over the president's request for more funds.

The state health department says the loss will force funding cutbacks for local health departments, emergency preparedness exercises, equipment upgrades and emergency medications.

"There are going to be fewer people and fewer opportunities to respond to Zika or Ebola, if it comes back, or some natural disaster like a tornado or flood. We will just not have the capacity," Ehlinger said. "And similarly we'll have less laboratory capacity."

Ehlinger was in Washington Thursday where he called on Congress to fund the nation's Zika fight and restore emergency response funds as soon as possible.

He also met with officials at the Environmental Protection Agency to talk about pending changes that would tighten standards for lead in drinking water.

Ehlinger said he urged federal officials to consider financial assistance for communities that can't afford to tackle their lead problems.

But his biggest concern is that sources of lead poisoning other than drinking water will get short shrift.

"Now after Flint we're looking all at water and people are saying if you clean up the water it's going to be fine. No. We also have old housing and contaminated soil that we also have to pay attention to. So the real problem is how do we deal with all of those issues effectively."