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

Florida has an ongoing Zika outbreak in a Miami neighborhood of Wynwood. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has confirmed local transmission there for several days. In response, Florida Governor Scott has pledged that Zika tests will be free for all pregnant women. Apparently there is a Zika test kit shortage and physicians' offices have waiting lists for their use. Pregnant residents in Florida are beginning to curtain their activities and travel in their home towns. Other women are delaying pregnancies, freezing eggs for later, or leaving the area when pregnant.

California has the seen the first births of Zika infected babies. These cases have been from mothers who travelled to Zika affected areas. 

Texas Medicaid has decided to cover the cost of mosquito repellant to women of reproductive age. 

President Obama has asked Congress to reconvene early to work on Zika. Meanwhile the CDC has itself provided an additional  $16,000,000 to 40 states to combat Zika. They had already given $25,000,000 in July. This comes out to and additional $400,000 per state on average and does not sound like much in the scheme of things. The money is meant for developing programs to collect and track data on both the mothers and the babies affected by Zika. I have to say that when money is short, as it is, that making the choice to fight the virus with information seems like the wisest first step. When more money comes in, which hopefully it will, it can go to bigger ticket items like better mosquito control and vaccines. Current mosquito control techniques are poor against the mosquito since it can live indoors or outdoors, can hatch in a tiny amount of water, can bite multiple people, and has eggs which can last for months. 

The CDC has clarified that all pregnant women need to be assessed for risk of Zika. They do not necessarily need to be tested, but their travel history and the travel history of their partner or partners should be assessed. 

The CDC has reviewed data which show that the use of Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCS) is low in Zika affected States. LARCS are among the most effective means of contraception and considered safe for most all women. 

Finally in encouraging Zika news, The Journal Science has reported that three different Zika vaccines have worked “to perfection” in rhesus monkeys. Each of these vaccines works by a different mechanism to stimulate the immune system to combat the virus. One vaccine uses dead virus, but the other two use two different viral DNA subunits to stimulate an effective immune response. 

In other news, the CDC has reported that adults across the board are about 15 pounds heavier than they were 20 years ago. Boys and girls weigh more as well, though boys' heights have gone up. Girls' hights have stayed the same. The average 5’4 woman weighs 168.5 pounds, which qualifies as a BMI (Body Mass Index)  of 29, nearly going from overweight to obese at a BMI of 30. Normal BMI is somewhere between 19 and 25. See the NIH (National Institute of Health) BMI calculator HERE:

Vitamin D is in the news again. Apparently Vitamin D levels decrease by 20 % after cessation of oral contraceptives (OCs). This has potential consequences not only for women but for any pregnancies that ensue. Because of his new finding, it might be appropriate to check Vitamin D levels after OCs are stopped or before pregnancy is considered. 

In the close-to-science-fiction department, we turn our attention to telomeres. What is a telomere ? quotes Blackburn and Epel from the Journal Nature, saying that

“ Telomeres are the end caps at the end of each DNA strand that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces. Without the coating, shoelaces become frayed until they can no longer do their job, just as without telomeres, DNA strands become damages, and our cells can’t do their job.”.

Telomere length is therefore a marker of cell aging. Cell lifespan shortens as telomeres shorten. We are born with a certain telomere length. The majority of telomere shortening occurs in the first 4 years of life. Little is known about why telomeres shorten. It turns out that early exclusive breastfeeding for just 4-6 weeks is associated with longer telomere length at age 4-5 years. This may have consequences for long term health and overall longevity. The CDC has reported that just about half of all postpartum women are breastfeeding at 6 months. Less than a third were still breastfeeding at a year. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that women breastfeed for at least 6-12 months. 

The Journal Pediatrics reports that “ Breast milk give a boost to premature babies mental and physical development.” Those who received breast milk during the first 28 days of life had measurably better IQ, math, memory and motor skills at age 7 compared to those who received less breast milk. I will comment that to pump breast milk for 28 days while your premature baby is in the NICU (newborn ICU) requires a high level of dedication. Perhaps it is difficult to factor out this maternal dedication as a factor in the better outcomes of the breastfed babies in their study.  These breastfeeding mom’s of preemies either are or become some of the most dedicated and resourceful moms out there, due, at least in part, to what they have to deal with. Maybe the better outcomes are born of the mother’s overall dedication. Hat’s off to you…. dedicated NICU moms. 


Stay tuned for more breaking news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology next week on Medical Mondays.