CDC steps up screening of pregnant women for Zika virus

- North Atlanta OBGYN Dr. Meera Garcia spent Friday afternoon poring over the CDC's new Zika virus guidelines. In the last week, she said, at least 50 patients have contacted her practice about Zika virus.

"The first question is, "Oh, my goodness, I've traveled to this affected area.  How does this affect me?  How does this affect my unborn child?" said Dr. Garcia.

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The CDC said the link between Zika virus and severe birth defects is growing stronger by the day.  In Brazil, hit hard by the mosquito-borne virus, thousands of babies have been born with abnormally small heads, and in some cases brain damage.

The CDC said this is the first time in 70-years, since the emergence of rubella; we've had a new virus able to cause so much harm to unborn babies.

So, the agency is now urging doctors to test pregnant women with travel history to Zika-affected areas within 2-12 weeks after they return, even if they don't have any symptoms.

But that raises more questions.

"Where do you refer for testing,” asks Dr. Garcia. “Is there a set test? Do all the samples have to be sent to a particular laboratory?"

Dr. Garcia said her practice is developing a screening questionnaire to assess each patient's risk for Zika virus based on her travel history.

“In the South, particularly in this area, travel to the Caribbean is just so prevalent,” Garcia said. “ People do ‘babymoons’ all the time. They're like, ‘We're going to go off to the Caribbean, have a few days of rest and relaxation before we have this baby.’ And now it is going to change all of our plans.”

The CDC said mosquitoes are the primary transmitter of Zika virus, but there has been one case of sexual transmission in Dallas. In this case, a man returning from Venezuela infected his female partner with the virus through intercourse.

So, the agency is advising men returning from Zika virus affected areas to use condoms, or abstain from sex with their pregnant partner through duration of her pregnancy.

There's no treatment or vaccine for Zika virus. But Garcia said she doesn't want patients to know they're not alone.

“So much of it right now is unknown and beyond our control, that we're all kind of in it together, going through for it," Garcia said.

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