Zika virus challenges ob.gyn. practice


Viral illnesses in pregnancy are not unheard of. When a patient presents with symptoms, we often think of an influenza type of infection that will be cleared within a short period of time and with few negative consequences for the developing fetus. Other infections that can occur include TORCH – Toxoplasmosis, Other (syphilis, varicella-zoster, parvovirus B19), Rubella, Cytomegalovirus (CMV), and Herpes – infections, but these are also relatively common.

Rarely do we in the United States consider a gravida’s vulnerability to tropical infectious diseases such as dengue, chikungunya, and now Zika virus. With the popularity and ease of international travel, and the potential for women’s exposure to more exotic diseases, the practice of ob.gyn. must undergo a significant transition in perspective. It is vital for us to understand these illnesses because of their potency and reported injury to both the mother and baby, for several reasons.

Dr. E. Albert Reece

Dr. E. Albert Reece

First, there is the public health concern. As of June 16, 2016, the Pan American Health Organization of the World Health Organization, reported 39 countries and territories in the Americas with confirmed cases of Zika virus, with 21 of those countries having confirmed cases in pregnant women.

As of June 9, 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 234 pregnant women in the United States have laboratory evidence of possible Zika infection, along with 189 pregnant women living in U.S. territories. Since the current outbreak, which began in July 2015 in Brazil, seven countries – accounting for more than 1,600 cases – have reported babies with congenital syndrome associated with Zika virus, the majority of which have been in Brazil. With the Summer Olympics in Rio starting in August 2016, the potential spread of Zika virus is dizzying.

Second, there is the counseling and management concern. Without a treatment or vaccine available, ob.gyns. must stay current on the latest research and findings to inform their patients of the risks associated with travel to an area with confirmed, or areas at risk for developing, Zika virus transmission.

Third, there is a diagnostic concern. Women who have visited areas with Zika virus, or who have had intimate contact with someone who has traveled to these areas, must be diagnosed and then counseled immediately.

We have devoted this Master Class to a discussion of Zika virus and the work being conducted in the United States to understand this disease. We have invited Dr. Yoel Sadovsky, an expert on placental development and trophoblast function, and his colleague, Carolyn Coyne, Ph.D., a leading researcher on host-virus interactions, to address this important topic.

Dr. Reece, who specializes in maternal-fetal medicine, is vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, as well as the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean of the school of medicine. Dr. Reece said he had no relevant financial disclosures. He is the medical editor of this column. Contact him at

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