Medical Monday: Breaking news from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

The first US  “Zika Summit” happened a week ago Friday. Much of what was discussed was how to fund the crisis. While it is expected that there will be a few cases of Zika clustered around the country, it is not believed that Zika will affect the United States the same way it has affected Brazil. Special attention was paid to Puerto Rico where hundreds of thousands of Zika cases are expected and therefore thousands of pregnant women anticipated to acquire the infection. 

Congress has not approved the current administration's request for $1.9 billion in funding to fight the ZIka virus. For this reason NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) director Dr. Anthony Fauci has decided to divert funds from the study of Ebola for preventing and fighting the ZIka virus. Transfer of funds from other sources is being contemplated.

It is now accepted that Zika is the cause of post Zika fetal microcephaly. However there seems to be more to the story. This which was hinted at earlier has now been confirmed: Zika virus has spread throughout South America and Latin America. However according to the World Health Organization,“… a surge in microcephaly has been reported only in Brazil.” This remains to be explained, but when it is, it will doubtless provide clues to how the virus causes microcephaly.

Generally it is believed that infections of all kinds are most threatening to pregnancy when they are incurred in the first and second semester. However in the case of Zika, it appears that this is not necessarily true. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that complications connected with the virus carry over into the third trimester. They note that it is unclear whether “...there is a point in pregnancy where contracting the illness isn't potentially serious”. 

During this period, while public health officials have been recommending mosquito control precautions in countries vulnerable to Zika, I have been wondering about the safety of DEET. Most experts agree it is safe for use by pregnant women as long as they use it as intended. There is one study of 900 women in Thailand published some years ago in 2001 which provides reasonable evidence that daily use of DEET causes no discernible problems.

An interesting law in Tennessee makes it a criminal offense to give birth while addicted to drugs. These women face jail. Naturally this law was designed to deter pregnant women from using. However physicians in the state have declared that the experiment backfired, noting that women who are pregnant and using simply avoid obtaining prenatal care.

In the "practicing medicine without a license" department, Arizona's Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed a billto require abortion clinics to utilize Mifeprex according to an outdated FDA protocol and not the current evidence-based protocol. The new protocol provides that the medication can be used for a significantly longer time in pregnancy then the old protocol. The change in protocol was approved by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist who noted that it aligned with "current available scientific evidence and best practices”. 

New research indicates that pregnant women who use marijuana are 77% more likely to give birth to a low birth weight baby. These babies are also more likely to end up in newborn ICU. Authors of this study note that it is important that we determine the effects of marijuana in pregnancy since so many states have legalized its use.

It would seem a threatening world out there. However, I can see a faint silver lining in all this. It seems the world is finally focusing on the reproductive health of women and children as a foundation for a healthy society and the future for us all.