Birthing Zika: The Zika Virus and Birth Defects

IMAG0223Every season UCLA Health publishes a magazine called “Vital Signs.” In it, it talks about important health information for people to know, especially its patients who use UCLA on an ongoing basis for their health care needs. In the Spring Issue, it discusses the Zika Virus. This article will give you a brief look at what it is and how it can infect the lives of babies.

Most of what I will be talking about will be coming straight  out of UCLA’s Vital Signs magazine and given that UCLA is one of the premier research hospitals, I think we can safely assume the information is correct as we currently understand Zika.

IMAG0218Like its “cousin” Malaria, the Zika virus is found through the bite of mosquitoes. But it is not your average mosquito, it is the Aedes mosquito in particular. The Aedes is not just responsible for the Zika Virus but for dengue and chikungunya. (Okay that last one sounds like a form of chicken gonorrhea, but regardless stay away from mosquitoes.)   Experts are saying we should not worry about Zika Virus too much because it is not as likely to happen in the United States for the following reasons:

  1. “The Zika Virus has spread throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.” That in itself means it is highly unlikely to occur in the United Sates.  The article goes on to say, “Only a few cases of Zika infection have been reported in the United States, mostly in people who traveled to impacted areas and some from sexual contact with an infected person who had returned from South America.”
  2. The United States has vast experience dealing with mosquito born illnesses. Some of those illnesses are vastly more dangerous than the Zika virus. “Zika virus is a fairly mild illness compared to malaria, tuberculosis or dengue fever; those are infections that cause millions of deaths a year.”
  3. While certainly irritating, to most of the adults that get it, it is not lethal. So if you are ever stricken with Zika, you are not going to immediately croak. There is plenty that can be done to help you overcome it. “In men and non-reproductive women, the Zika virus is fairly harmless.”

IMAG0217All that being said there is  one group that the virus particularly lethal for and that is unborn children.  Unborn children are always at risk of getting potentially fatal diseases, it is because depending on the stage of the pregnancy unborn children either have no immune system or a very limited one. Conversely, there are times when Mom is sick and the baby has made her healthier. I have heard stories of women with kidney problems who start to do better because the baby’s kidney’s help do what Mom can’t.

Doctors are unsure of why Zika virus in unborn children causes birth defects. “Unfortunately, we don’t yet understand the frequency or the full scope of harm; to the unborn baby,”says Lydia Lee, MD a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.” However, the virus seems to be linked to cases of microcephaly. That is when the “baby’s head is smaller than expected and the brain may not develop normally.”  Because there have been so few cases in the United States and even less by pregnant women, it makes it difficult to determine what factors may be involved in causing the birth defects in the first place.

Pregnant women who have come in contract with people from impacted areas should see a doctor, just to make sure that everything is fine. While the Zika virus is harmless for the majority of the population, it is not for pregnant women and care needs to be paid when it can affect the health of  your unborn child.

 

 

 

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