Zika prevention begins with educated and empowered patients

Zika prevention begins with educated and empowered patients
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Unfortunately, the Zika story is not over. To date, 4,900 pregnancy-related cases of Zika have been confirmed in the U.S. territories and a recent study released by the CDC found 1 in 7 babies exposed to Zika have birth defects and other health problems. These findings are tragic and prove that while there is no vaccine for the virus, we — meaning consumers, patients, healthcare providers, the healthcare industry, etc. — need to be more mindful and proactive with "our" health and the health of Americans as a whole by first considering preventative care and second by better understanding diagnosing of the virus.

Zika can cause “neurodevelopmental abnormalities,” which include a wide range of health problems related to nerve cell development: problems walking, swallowing, hearing, seeing, cerebral palsy and epileptic seizures. About 9 percent of the affected children had a neurological problem, while 6 percent had a birth defect.

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Percentages at this level cannot be overlooked and while the world, and our country, need to work toward creating policies for averting future epidemics, similar to Ebola and Zika, we can take action now at a grassroots level through education on transmission and prevention of transmission as well as through proper testing for diagnoses.

 

There are three main modes of transmission: mosquito bite, mother to child and sexual transmission.

You can be a carrier of Zika, even if you aren’t pregnant and you get infected, there is a risk of you infecting others. We have people who travel back to the United States from South America or Central America, who have no knowledge of being infected and that have contracted it, they have no plans of being pregnant. They infect non-infected mosquitos here who can infect individuals, including pregnant women.

There is a possibility that a mother can have the Zika virus during her pregnancy but her newborn tests negative for Zika. In this case the infant should still receive routine pediatric care including measurement of growth and development and appropriate evaluation and follow-up for any clinical findings that may arise.

There isn’t any specific treatment at this time for congenital Zika virus infections, however infant care is focused on diagnosing and managing conditions that are present and monitoring the child’s development over time addressing the problems as they arise.

Initially testing had only been available through the CDC and Department of Health, however, as the general population, and as individuals, this created a level of what we know and don’t know. Specifically, the number of reported cases had been underestimated due to the limited availability of testing and the fact Zika either shows no symptoms or only shows mild symptoms in those infected.

As a solution to this, however, the CDC has expanded their commercial use of testing to general clinical labs which gives more patients the opportunity to be informed and proactive about their health, protect themselves and those around them and be aware if they have indeed contracted the virus.

Likewise, it gives providers the opportunity to empower their patients to be more proactive as well, including being educated on healthcare issues like Zika.

When going to see your health-care provider it’s important to know what evaluations need to be made. These should include a comprehensive physical exam, consisting of a neurologic assessment, postnatal head ultrasound, standard newborn hearing screen and Zika virus testing of the infant.

Infants with confirmed or probable congenital Zika virus infection should have a comprehensive ophthalmologic exam and hearing assessment by auditory brainstem response (ABD) testing before 1 month of age. Recommendations for follow up for infants with confirmed or probable congenital Zika infection based on laboratory test results depend on whether these infants have abnormalities consistent with the Zika syndrome.

Unfortunately, for those who have already contracted the virus, I do think health issues will continuously emerge as these children age, therefore it’s really important to identify their infection as soon as possible. 

It’s worrisome if it’s not controlled but being educated and empowered to make your own healthcare decisions is the best form of prevention. As a health-care provider and patient advocate, I encourage anyone who has traveled recently, or plans to travel to an area where you could have been exposed to Zika, to be well-informed on the virus and most importantly, to get tested at a CDC-approved general clinic lab to understand if you are at risk for infection.

Robert Segal, M.D., is an attending cardiologist with his primary affiliation at NYU Medical Center, and North-Shore Lenox Hill Hospital and the co-founder of Manhattan Cardiology and Medical Offices of Manhattan. Segal is also is the co-founder of LabFinder.com, which is a health technology platform allowing patients to schedule their laboratory and radiology tests and access test results 24/7 while keeping them in-network and avoiding surprise bills.