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

As the northern hemisphere encounters fall and winter weather, mosquito activity and the risk of Zika infection by mosquito falls but does not go to zero. Of course, sexually and birth related (perinatal) transmission are not affected and can continue unabated. 

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have honed in on the mechanism of action of the Zika Virus on human cells. It appears that Zika virus alters our RNA directly. 

We now know that Zika can persist in vaginal secretions for two weeks after onset of infection. During this time, a woman can pass infection on to a partner. Additionally, it has been determined that Zika is detectable in serum ( the liquid portion of blood) for a week. However it is present in whole blood for at least 80 days. These insights have been made possible through the contribution of one particular patient infected with Zika since the beginning of the epidemic. Through frequent and repeated testing on her, we have been able to ascertain these findings. We use a debt of gratitude to this female Zika patient who has allowed herself to be the subject of invasive scientific study since the beginning of the crisis. 

Everyone has heard of menstrual migraines. Some happen right before the period and some happen during the period. Those preceding the period are believed to arise from sharply falling estrogen levels. It turns out that the late-cycle migraines may be related to low ferritin levels from the blood loss of the period. This could lend insight into prevention, which of course might involve ongoing iron supplementation. 

In the things-we-already-knew-but-had-not-yet-been-conclusively-documented department, research published on the Arthritis Care and Research site indicated that systemic lupus wanes during pregnancy and flares in the postpartum period. Nonetheless, the research is quite welcome in that it sheds concrete insight into the baseline mechanisms of lupus and autoimmunity in women. Autoimmune disease as a whole is prevalent and predominantly affects women. Most patients are on current treatment strategies which decades old and are rife with significant side effects. This lupus patient applauds any sound research into autoimmunity in general and lupus in particular. 

Also in this same journalistic department we are now assured that smoking and alcohol are linked to 11 of 15 of the worst cancers. By worst, we mean those cancers most "responsible for premature death and loss of healthy life years”. Any second year med student can assure you conclusively of this. 

Pediatricians are being encouraged to change their counseling of parents about the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) vaccine. Instead of highlighting the prevention of sexually transmitted HPV infection which can lead to warts, they are being encourage to highlight the cancer prevention aspects of the vaccine. It would be nice if we could simply explain that the HPV virus causes genital warts, precancerous changes on the cervix, which can then develop into cervical, vaginal, penile and even oropharyngeal (mouth and throat) cancer. I am tempted to think that we oversimplify subjects too much for people. People are capable of understanding a great deal if someone takes the time to explain it to them. 

In related news, new data has demonstrated that those children who obtain the HPV vaccine before 15 years of age only need two shots rather than three. Even more incentive to gets your kids done ! 

New research from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality have show that the C section rate for low risk patients is about 16%, whereas the C section rate for high risk patients is about 76%. Intellectually, I am a splitter rather than a lumper. Consequently, thinking about C section rates in this way is much more useful that saying, the C section rate in the United States is about 32%. I think information presented in this way will help patients understand their own risk factors, and how to prospectively stack the deck in their favor in the future. 

Here is some sobering but critically important news that I suspect will be woefully underreported. Maternal body mass index (BMI) is inversely correlated with newborns’ telomere length. Whoa, what does that mean ? Basically, the heavier a mother is, the less robust her newborn’s DNA strands will be. DNA is protected at it’s ends by segments known as telomeres, and when they are short, DNA is more apt to be damaged. Shorter telomeres means shorter DNA lifespan, which most likely means shorter lifespan overall. 

We have all heard by now of the micro biome, which means the healthy or not so healthy populations of bacteria and other organisms that populate our body. Women mostly focus on the micro biome of the vagina, knowing that if it becomes disturbed, yeast or bacterial vaginosis can result. However, the vagina is not the only concern. It turns out that the breast has a micro biome. Moreover, it turns out that breasts sampled and found to have benign disease versus those with cancer have very different micro biomes. This could be a clue to something, I’m not sure what. But is is a new and interesting concept. 

In disappointing news, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) reports that rates of common sexually transmitted diseases have reached all times highs. This include syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. I’m going to give a shout out to bad parenting and network TV here. Thanks so much, guys. Oddly, syphilis was at an all time low in 2001, and gonorrhea was as recently as 2009. 

In surprising news, 43% of those with no type of health insurance could qualify for either Medicaid or coverage through the Affordable Care Act exchange. The reasons for this are unclear. I will say that some people seem to have quite a bit of trouble filling out the forms online. I have joked to my office staff that the government  should outsource both health care and the elections to reliable companies like Amazon or Google who can design a nice reliable website. 

Stay tuned next week for more news from the amazing world of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  

Medical Monday: Breaking news From the World of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women’s Health 

To follow recent tradition, I will give the Zika update first. The WHO (World Health Organization) has reported that the spectrum of neurological damage to babies with Zika is greater than previously appreciated. Microcephaly is certainly the most obvious problem, but others such as spasticity, seizures, and vision problems are possible. 

This week a new method of acquiring the virus was confirmed. An American lab worker working with the Zika virus has contracted it though a needle stick. 

In the US, funding is still not present to fund the fight against the virus. Nonetheless, scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) are “aggressively pursuing" a vaccine. 

Research is also taking place regarding how to alter the genes of the Zika carrying mosquitos so that they are sterile. Wiping out an entire species through genetic engineering may have unintended consequences. Researchers are examining this important issue. 

Over thirteen hundred cases of Zika are confirmed in Puerto Rico, but there are probably many more including those who are asymptomatic. ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) is leading the effort to train physicians on the island to place IUDs for contraception. The WHO this week has finally issued a recommendation to women in affected areas to delay pregnancy. 

Both ovary and breast cancer therapies are in the news this week, and the messages are promising. For starters, research presented a the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology has highlighted 11 additional genetic mutations associated with increased risk of ovarian cancer. This may ultimately give us expanded opportunities for screening and treatment of this disease. 

On the treatment side, it turns out that a combination of IV and intraperitoneal chemotherapy is more life extending than either therapy alone, for the treatment of ovarian cancer. Also on the treatment side, it turns out that extending anti-cancer hormone therapy such as Tamoxifen for 10 instead of 5 years reduces risk of recurrence or second primary in older women with early stage breast cancer. 

Syphylis cases have more than tripled in the last decade. At the same time, the majority of sexually active women between 15-25 have NOT been screened EVER for any sexually transmitted infections since they do not believe themselves to be at risk.

The CDC ( Centers for Disease Control) has reported the “ the US obesity epidemic continues to worsen”. Fully 40% of US women are obese. Obese is defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or greater than 30. Do you know your BMI ? 

Structure Sunday: STI testing in Prenatal Labs

You've no doubt heard of or gotten a prenatal lab panel. The panel includes a number of tests for infections that might have an effect on mother or baby during the pregnancy. 

For most common infectious diseases, like the flu,  you know you have it almost right away. Others can be carried silently for years, and what we test includes them. If we know about them, we have a chance at treating them before they can cause harm to mom or baby. Learn more HERE