Pope Francis has done something unprecedented. On Thursday the pontiff has suggested that women threatened with the Zika Virus may use contraception. This historic and, dare I say inspired move has given me great hope. The Roman Catholic church has had a longstanding ban on contraception. However, the Zika virus scourge traveling though south and central America, with its devastating effects on the unborn, has caused him to announce this exception. Pope Francis has made it clear that the exemption is “ rare and specific”. This announcement is likely to have a profound and widespread impact particularly on poor Latin American countries where the dictates of the church are absolute and where Zika virus is the most prevalent.
It is becoming better and better established that Zika, virus infection, especially early in pregnancy, is associated with the development of microcephaly. Microcephaly refers to small head, but it also entails a small dysfunctional brain. Researchers are now becoming concerned that normal appearing, non- microcephalic babies of mothers who had Zika during their pregnancies may have more cognitive and mental heath problems as they age. The potential social effects of this are enormous.
Links between Zika infection and post infection paralysis, aka Guillaine Barre, are becoming stronger. Of course this will potentially affect men as well as women. The exact incidence of Guillane Barre after Zika infection is as yet, unknown.
In other news, new research indicated that babies should get vitamin D supplementation whether or not they are breastfeeding and are eating solid foods. Breastfed children need 400 IU Vitamin D daily, even if they are also receiving formula.
ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) continues to push for contraception as a quality measure. This means it is a feature of medical care and insurance coverage that is routinely assessed. The ACA ( Affordable Care Act) requires all insurance plans to cover all FDA approved contraception, but this has not yet been fully implemented.
For about 25 years “steroids” have been used in mothers under 34 weeks to accelerate the lung maturity of their growing unborn baby. This is done if an early delivery is suspected to occur. However new research in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates there may be benefit to giving steroids through 36 weeks.
The CDC just released a report indicating that 1/3 of adults are getting insufficient sleep. Less than 7 hours of sleep is associated with increased chance of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and all- cause mortality and “ frequent mental distress”.
So to prevent these things, I should go to sleep soon. However, I will leave you with this: My patients often bring me things from far flung places since they know I do not get out much. Tomorrow, when I sit down at my desk, I will see one gift that is more special now than it was before: a souvenir photo of Pope Francis and a miniature rosary from Rome, where one of my Catholic patients heard him speak. To this Jewish girl, Pope Francis is a hero, a real “mensch ".