The United States has reported a total of 372 cases of pregnant women suffering from Zika virus infection and the number is nearly at 12000 in Colombia. The mosquito borne disease has infected a total of 691 and 1305 people in American States and territories respectively.
Recently, a team of public health experts in Colombia and United States, led by Oscar Pacheco MD, found that the Zika virus may not be as formidable as it was feared to be when acquired late in the pregnancy. In fact, third trimester-acquired Zika infections may not have infants affected by any overt birth defects associated with the virus.
The news room at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) reports its director, Micheal Ostterholm’s (PHD, MPH) appreciation of the findings. He states that these findings provide a more useful epidemiological picture of Zika. According to him, a lack of microcephaly seen in children born to women infected during their trimester is in line with what’s expected.
Regarding brain and neurological development during pregnancy, it is a continued process of which the majority takes place during the first two trimesters. However, Dr. Ostterholm cautions that “other neurological abnormalities might not immediately show up at birth”.
The report put forward by experts in public health saw that, nearly 90% of women who acquired Zika in their third trimesters had given birth and not even one case of microcephaly was reported in such an instance.
The report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and was supported by the Colombian Instituto Nacional de Salud (INS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report used data from nearly 65,726 cases from the system.
Currently, Colombia has a majority of the pregnant-infected population in their second and first trimesters, waiting to give birth.
To combat this situation, Colombia currently posseses a dynamic INS surveillance system used for Zika detection. The system maintains an active national public health surveillance program that makes conditions such as acute flaccid paralysis, Zika virus infection, chikungunya, dengue, and congenital defects like microcephaly, notifiable. From October 2015 specifically, the INS has been mandated to immediately report all symptomatic cases of Zika virus disease.
Among all the cases of microcephaly reported in Colombia this year, four of them had a Zika virus infection. All of the four babies were however, born to mothers who had not shown any symptoms and were not under surveillance.
Just before this development, a Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study concluded after a careful analysis of evidence that Zika is in fact a cause for microcephaly and many other neurological disorders causing severe fetal brain defects.
The Zika virus infection, propagated by the mosquito Aedes Aegyptii, is relatively mild (sometimes even asymptomatic) in adults with symptoms such as rash, fever, joint and muscle pain, headache and conjunctivitis. There are rarely any fatalities. In infants however, neurological defects can give rise to seizures, cognitive deficits, hearing loss, and feeding and vision problems. The birth defects cannot be reversed but are only managed for as long as a child lives.
CDC reports nearly 700 travel-associated cases for the Zika virus disease in the fifty US states as well as the District of Columbia. Moreover, the first cases of microcephaly related to Zika have started emerging in North and South America. Last year, Brazil saw 1330 such cases of children born to Zika-infected mothers while the US saw its first case of microcephaly in January this year.
Another reported case was regarding a baby born in Oahu, Hawaii, whose mother had previously travelled to Brazil in May 2015. Hawaii’s health department suspects that the mother, early in her pregnancy at the time, acquired the infection during her visit.
The disease, due to its easily communicable nature is propagating actively into the United States. Just as worrisome are the disease’s costs. President Obama, in a recent interview, revealed that according to statistics, an estimated lifetime care for a child born with a Zika-infected brain can cost up to $10 million. Health experts have termed the issue a major public health threat and are lobbying in the Senate to provide adequate funding for damage limitation.
Just days ago, the American Medical Association (AMA), directly asked the Senate to provide resources sufficient enough to help combat the issue. This problem, if not dealt with, will very likely impact the health of US citizens and adversely affect the health of unborn babies.
AMA president, Andrew W. Gurman said that without these resources for research, prevention, control, and treatment of Zika infection, the country will be ‘ill-equipped’ to help protect its citizens and keep them healthy.
The senate has committed to a provision of $1.1 billion and the House of Representatives has pushed for $622 million to fight the disease, after President Obama asked for $1.9 billion dollars for the cause nearly three months ago. Obama has promised to veto any such proposed bill which will cut funds from other programs.