Don’t panic over Zika, says doc

Health Today-blockAs the Zika virus continues to make its steady trek across our region, there are more questions than answers, particularly for pregnant women bombarded by news reports of the unfolding epidemic.

Last week, Barbados confirmed that seven people were infected with the virus spread by an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, three of whom are pregnant.

An unwelcome development and concern for the mothers, especially if like the rest of us they are paying attention to Brazil, with its images of babies with microcephaly –– a condition where the infant has a small head or the head stops growing after birth.

“We are very aware of the fact that with everything in the news right now of course someone who is pregnant is going to be concerned, but I think you have to try to put that into perspective,” says Dr Juliet Skinner, clinical director of the Barbados Fertility Clinic, who strongly advises against panic.

“I don’t think that we understand and know Zika,” she said, expressing concern that pregnant women were being misled into thinking that if they are infected with Zika, their babies will have microcephaly.
“That is a statement that is absolutely by no means true.”

She explained that microcephaly which has been around for decades is similar to other antenatal infections, including rubella and chicken pox, which also cause defects.

“With chicken pox, for example, the risk [for a defect] seems to be between seven and 20 weeks. That risk is between 0. 5 per cent and one per cent in the earlier part of pregnancy –– that’s up to the end of the first trimester.

“Between seven and 12 [weeks] if you were to get chicken pox in pregnancy, you could have a baby with an anomaly. Between 12 or 13 weeks and up to 20, shall I say that risk goes a little bit higher, up to about two per cent.

“But really, really important for those patients right now who are pregnant, 98 to 99 per cent of women with confirmed infection of other types of infection that can cause brain anomalies have a perfectly healthy baby.”

Dr Skinner further explained that a pregnant patient with Zika would be monitored to a greater degree and doctors could discover the unusual.

“Microcepaly can be in many cases be picked up on an ultrasound.

“Ultrasounds can also be conducted as well later on, maybe in the end of the second trimester, and certainly the third, so that there is a level of reassurance for the patient and antenatal recognition for the doctors and paediatricians in question.”

Turning to the developments in Brazil, Dr Skinner said a closer analysis of the high cases of microcephaly showed a number of different factors should be considered before a clear link with Zika could be established.

“There is the issue of a vaccination that was implemented as a mandatory vaccine in 2014. There is also the issue of genetically modified mosquitoes that were released in 2012, that were actually not effective at their goal –– which was to shorten the lifespan and control the mosquito population itself. Actually it virtually did the opposite.

“And indeed I saw a report from today, as the analyses are continuing to be done, that ultimately question that really and truly the microcephaly rise is not just last year. That whatever is going on in Brazil actually predates Zika by a considerable length of time, and the year that they used was actually 2012.”

Dr Skinner says the situation in Brazil and Barbados are very different, and she suggests that any outbreak of Zika here will be reasonably short-lived.

In the meantime, she is advising all citizens to follow the precautions issued by the health authorities, including wearing insect repellant and seriously reducing mosquito breeding.

“Clean up your yard. The ministry is doing their bit; they are continuing to fog and continuing the fogging programme which can also reduce the mosquito population substantially . . . . I think we are hopefully going to find that the outbreak of Zika is going to pretty short-lived.

“With the WHO [World Health Organization] having made the steps now to generate the funds to those research projects, I think there are going to be an awful lot of answers coming and it will be very interesting to see what the facts on Zika are in six months’ to a year’s time.”

7 Responses to Don’t panic over Zika, says doc

  1. Sandra Small
    Sandra Small February 13, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Amanda Small for you!

  2. Peter Emtage
    Peter Emtage February 13, 2016 at 7:42 pm

    Normally, I would agree with the sentiment in this article. However, as data accumulates it suggest a direct cause and effect relationship. In the absence of epidemiological correlates, caution should be encouraged especially for women/couples thinking about pregnancy.

    A widespread epidemic of Zika virus (ZIKV) infection was reported in 2015 in South and Central America and the Caribbean. A major concern associated with this infection is the apparent increased incidence of microcephaly in fetuses born to mothers infected with ZIKV. In this report, we describe the case of an expectant mother who had a febrile illness with rash at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy while she was living in Brazil. Ultrasonography performed at 29 weeks of gestation revealed microcephaly with calcifications in the fetal brain and placenta. After the mother requested termination of the pregnancy, a fetal autopsy was performed. Micrencephaly (an abnormally small brain) was observed, with almost complete agyria, hydrocephalus, and multifocal dystrophic calcifications in the cortex and subcortical white matter, with associated cortical displacement and mild focal inflammation. ZIKV was found in the fetal brain tissue on reverse-transcriptase–polymerase-chain-reaction (RT-PCR) assay, with consistent findings on electron microscopy. The complete genome of ZIKV was recovered from the fetal brain.

  3. Christal P. Austin February 14, 2016 at 9:15 am

    What an excellent piece of investigative journalism. Finally a journalist who acknowledges they are NOT a doctor and therefore, sought the advice of one. Too much propaganda out there by international entities that should know better.

  4. Maureen Jones February 14, 2016 at 10:07 am

    I agree with the article written very factually by the Doctor
    Panicking can do so much damage to your health and happiness
    Everything is being done to alleviate this virus
    We must take our own adaquate steps to safeguard our lives
    and remain informed at all times of all future developments

  5. Marianne Brown February 14, 2016 at 10:13 am

    Dr Skinner is a world respected Obstetrician and Gynecologist as well as the lead doctor at the Barbados Fertility Clinic. She is hugely knowledgeable about her field of expertise. She is not saying the zika virus isn’t worrying, she is saying not to panic. The causes of microcephaly are still not confirmed and Zika is just one of a few things. Take precautions, of course, but she is saying that women shouldn’t panic and assume their babies will be microcephalic if they get Zika.

  6. Annon February 15, 2016 at 6:54 am

    What a very ignorant, rude and insensitive comment to make towards that lady who took time outv to offer some insight based on her valuable experience. Wow.

  7. Richard Parker September 22, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    What rubbish. Anyone who says not to panic about Zika has an agenda, like tourism. Every single pregnant woman should panic if there is even the slightest chance her infant could have birth defects, and be diagnosed as quickly as possible and abort if necessary. This article was written in February and I hope they have done some reading about Zika and microcephaly in the meantime. NO ONE should be writing articles about zika ands microcephaly except doctors because no one else knows what they are talking about and they carry misinformation, such as this article that suggest that zika is no big thing. And, doctor or no, anyone who says that they aren’t sure if zika causes microcephaly is insane. Of course they know that.


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