Commentary

Don’t forget about Zika


 

 

Although the Zika virus isn’t making as many news headlines as it was last summer, ob.gyns. must not forget that it could still be in our waiting rooms.

Last year, new information on Zika emerged on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. Today, ob.gyns. remain on the front lines of counseling and treating women whose pregnancies are at risk of being affected by the Zika virus and devastating birth defects associated with it.

Dr. Karen E. Harris of Gainesville, Fla.
Dr. Karen E. Harris
Over the last couple of years, the medical community has learned a great deal about the Zika virus. However, we still have a lot to learn. The frightening reality is that there are still more questions than answers. That is why collaboration, transparency, and support are more important than ever.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists prioritizes preparing ob.gyns. to comprehensively address the Zika virus with patients. To support clinicians, ACOG regularly develops, updates, and issues guidance on the risk, prevention, assessment, treatment, and outcomes of the Zika virus. This includes a regularly updated Practice Advisory, as well as information to direct ob.gyns. to critical resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, such as the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry.

Last month, I participated in an ad hoc meeting of international experts and professional society representatives sponsored by the Gottesfeld-Hohler Memorial Foundation. The goal of this Zika think tank was to share ongoing studies and unpublished findings and to identify ways for the groups to collaborate to fight the virus. Zika experts from endemic and risk areas, such as Brazil, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida, started the meeting with on-the-ground updates. The latest epidemiologic evidence is that there appear to be waves of Zika virus infections that occur across regions/countries, spreading to virus-naive areas. Although immunity may develop eventually, Zika appears to occur in epidemics and is likely to spread further in North and South America to naive regions. Much of the United States is at risk during mosquito seasons. This collaboration with the Gottesfeld-Hohler Memorial Foundation was just the beginning, and I look forward to working more with Zika experts from all over the world.

The health reform debate in Washington also will affect our ability to respond to the ongoing Zika crisis. Current proposals allow states to opt out of essential coverage requirements, such as contraception and maternity coverage. It also would limit the federal investment in Medicaid, resulting in cuts to benefits and provider reimbursement and hamstringing our ability to treat our low-income pregnant patients with Zika exposure.

As ob.gyns., we continue to be the most important source of information for patients, and our goals of providing the most up-to-date knowledge and aiding in informed decision making are more important than ever.

Dr. Harris is a gynecologist in Gainesville, Fla., and chair of ACOG District VII. She reported having no relevant financial disclosures.

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