Zika virus again begins the headlines. It has now been well established that Zika virus can be sexually transmitted. The CDC ( Centers for Disease Control) has recommended that men returning from Zika affected countries take special precautions if their partners are pregnant or apt to become pregnant. They are advised to abstain or use protection through the duration of the entire pregnancy. The primary method of transmission is still believed to be through mosquitos, however, Zika has recently been isolated from both saliva and urine.
Zika’s devastating effects on the unborn are similar to effects caused by the more well known viruses Rubella and Cytomegalovirus (CMV). Zika virus is associated with microcephaly (small underdeveloped brain and skull, with attendant developmental disabilities) and eye defects, and so are CMV and Rubella. Researchers are turning attention back to these better understood viruses to get clues about how the ZIka virus functions.
Additional recommendations from the CDC and ACOG ( American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) include testing all women living in or returning from ZIka infected countries. The US Olympic Committee has reiterated the CDC cautions, but has not issued any prohibitions against anyone going to or participating in the games.
In the interesting and promising department, Columbia has recorded over 3000 cases of Zika infected pregnant women. To date, no cases of microcephaly have been reported there. The reasons for this are uncertain. Post Zika Guillaine Barre syndrome has been studied in Columbia as well. Guillaine Barre is a reaction to certain viral infections which produces a usually temporary paralysis. It can be life threatening since it can paralyze the respiratory muscles. Columbian officials have noticed a 66 % increase in Guillaine Barre reactions compared to baseline.
President Obama has asked Congress for 1.8 billion dollars in funding to combat the Zika Virus. As of Friday, there are 79 cases of Zika in the United States.
Influenza is another viral danger which continues to deserve our attention. The good news there is that we have an effective vaccine. Flu vaccine is very important to pregnant women, since pregnant women are much more vulnerable to serious disease if they contract the flu. New research indicates flu vaccine in pregnancy is most effective if given in the first trimester.
There are other situations which can cause serious birth defects. One is exceedingly common: alcohol. Last week the CDC made news by recommending that pregnant women abstain from all alcohol. They also advised health professionals to advise women to stop using it even if they are just trying to become pregnant or, more interestingly, are simply having unprotected sex.
Frankly, these do not see like radical recommendations to me. They certainly do not seem mysogynist or anti-women. However, that is how some women are reacting. The blogosphere has been ablaze with what is, in my opinion, inflammatory rhetoric, saying that the government is trying to "take over women’s bodies", and other such nonsense. I wonder what these commentators think of the draconian measures recommended by South American governments to keep pregnant women from getting Zika ? Authorities have advocated that women not get pregnant for two years, and if they already are, to cover themselves and stay inside.
Here is an issue that may have a feminist component. Consider that only women must buy feminine hygiene products. They buy them in profusion, regularly, and all throughout their reproductive life. Some people believe that women should not have to pay sales tax on such products. President Obama is in favor of ending the so called “ tampon tax”.
Viruses and alcohol can cause serious birth defects. While smoking does not, it is strongly associated with growth restriction, low fluid, abruption, and preterm birth. CDC data indicate 8.4 percent of pregnant women smoke.
There us no doubt that our collective concern over the exotic and seemingly uncontrollable threat of Zika virus is justified. However this threat to pregnant women and others should be blended with renewed and commensurate concern for equally serious threats which we can address: smoking and alcohol.