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Doctors address concerns over the Zika virus and pregnancy

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By Kyoka Akers

Special to the Times

 

Pregnancy is supposed to be a joyous occasion, but for some Birmingham area residents who are expecting this spring and summer the excitement comes with some concerns.

What would have been a time to be outside enjoying the sun and preparing for a new addition to the family has turned to concern over the Zika virus which can cause birth defects.

“Zika was not thought of as being dangerous until the last year, year in a half in Brazil where they started documenting birth defects,” said Dr. Jim McVay, Director of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease in Montgomery.

Alese Williams, of Birmingham a mother of three who is expecting her fourth child this fall, has concerns.

“It frightens me because I am currently pregnant and . . . my main concern is that it can spread quickly due to the mosquitos populating and the number of people traveling out of the country,” she said.

These are some of the same concerns that expectant father Kawame Jemison has. He is the father of one and expecting twins this fall.

He and his girlfriend spend most of their time either at work or at home so they don’t go outside much, but when they do he plan on using natural remedies to fight off mosquitos and wear long sleeves and pants.

“My main concern is having healthy babies, so I’m staying abreast on the news and current events and watching our surroundings,” he said.

Both Jemison and Williams plan on speaking to their OB/GYN on their next appointment to go over a plan to help keep them and their loved ones safe.

Dr. Jamie Routman, OB/GYN at Brookwood Medical Center, said there are no commercially available tests for the Zika virus.

“If we suspect someone has symptoms then we would have to contact the CDC and from my understanding they send us the testing kit,” she said.

Dr. McVay, who is with the Alabama Department of Public Health, said the good news is that there is no known transmission from mosquito to human in this country.

“The mother is not at risk any more than anyone else,” he said, “she probably wouldn’t know she was bit. Even if she had the virus 80% of people have no symptoms whatsoever and 20% have very mild symptoms that they probably wouldn’t even pay attention to.”

Zika can also be transmitted sexually which is why doctors advise anyone who is pregnant or expecting to become pregnant and their partner to refrain from any travel to infected countries until after the birth of the baby. Men who are bitten with a Zika infected mosquito can pass the virus to their expectant spouse.

“Over the last three months international travelers have brought it back (and) there have been three residents of Alabama who have gone to infected countries and come back and tested positive,” Dr. McVay said. “Although the virus probably only stays active in a person for one to two weeks, we still suggest that males abstain or use protection with an expectant woman.”

The Zika virus was discovered in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1946, but was only found in animals particularly in the rhesus monkey.

Dr. McVay also states that protection from this virus has a lot to do with lifestyle.

“In a tropical country if you don’t have screens and air conditioning you are much more likely to get bitten, where we in this country are much more cautious, we have air conditioning and screens over our windows so that keeps people inside during the summer,” he said. “We also do mosquito control in this country, where many countries do not and we try to drain standing water sources which are breeding grounds for mosquitos.”

He also recommends that people make sure they use insect repellent, wear long sleeves and pants, have properly screened windows and drain all standing water around their homes.