Lo­cal spe­cial­ist says still no vac­cine for Zika

Maryland Independent - - News - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com Twit­ter: Tif­fIndyNews

Zika virus dis­ease is spread­ing to new ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion.

In an ef­fort to raise aware­ness about the ill­ness, a lo­cal multi-spe­cial­ist in the field of pub­lic health up­dated mem­bers of the Charles County Med­i­cal So­ci­ety about the pro­gres­sion of the virus and its dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects on preg­nant women.

The med­i­cal so­ci­ety held a gen­eral mem­ber­ship meet­ing April 28 and in­vited Dr. Howard Haft, deputy sec­re­tary for pub­lic health with the Mary­land Depart­ment of Health and Men­tal Hy­giene.

Haft spoke about pre­vent­ing birth de­fects through Zika in­ter­ven­tion. Held at the Charles County Gov­ern­ment Build­ing, the meet­ing fo­cused on the im­pact that Zika has in the state of Mary­land as well as how the lo­cal health de­part­ments can now send tests for acute Zika cases.

“It’s crys­tal clear that the virus causes neu­ro­log­i­cal im­pair­ments and birth de­fects in chil­dren. When it orig­i­nated in Brazil, we knew about ba­bies be­ing born with ab­nor­mal head shapes, oth­er­wise known as mi­cro­cephaly,” Haft said.

Haft has been lead­ing Mary­land’s ef­fort to pre­vent Zika virus from be­com­ing a pub­lic health threat in the state. He has 27 years of clin­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence in pri­mary in­ter­nal medicine and 10 years of hos­pi­tal-based emer­gency medicine, clin­i­cal and lead­er­ship ex­pe­ri­ence. Most re­cently, he served as chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer at Health Part­ners, a Wal­dorf-based char­i­ta­ble clinic serv­ing Charles County and sur­round­ing ar­eas.

“Al­though the Zika virus is sim­i­lar to the chikun­gunya virus and dengue virus, it’s so in­ter­est­ing be­cause we’ve never had a dis­ease like this that can be trans­mit­ted by mos­qui­toes and cause birth de­fects and is also sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted. Those things have never hap­pened be­fore,” Haft said. “That makes sci­en­tists scratch their heads and say, ‘What is this new kind of threat?’”

To date, one case of Zika in­fec­tion has been de­tected in Mary­land: in a pa­tient who had re­cently trav­eled to a coun­try where Zika trans­mis­sion has been ac­tive and on­go­ing.

Dr. F. Ge­orge Leon, pres­i­dent of the Charles County Med­i­cal So­ci­ety, said there are cur­rently 2.2 bil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in ar­eas that are “at-risk” for the ill­ness.

“The virus seems to have a par­tic­u­lar affin­ity to the devel­op­ing brain and the pri­mary fo­cus is avoid­ing in­trauter­ine in­fec­tion at any stage. This means avoid­ing con­tract­ing the virus via mos­quito, sex­ual in­ter­course, oral in­ter­course and re­ceiv­ing tainted blood prod­ucts,” Leon said.

Ac­cord­ing to Leon, 50 per­cent of preg­nan­cies are not planned — so the Depart­ment of Health and Men­tal Hy­giene is wor­ried about Zika virus trans­mis­sion to women who can be­come preg­nant or are al­ready ex­pect­ing.

“Men can trans­mit the virus to women sex­u­ally, so we warn men who travel to Zika-in­fected ar­eas, whether they are in­fected or not, do not have un­pro­tected sex for two months whether they’ve had Zika symp­toms or not,” Haft said.

Pri­mary car­ri­ers of the Zika virus are the Aedes ae­gypti and Aedes al­bopic­tus mos­quito, which typ­i­cally bite hu­mans dur­ing the day. The virus’ symp­toms in- clude con­junc­tivi­tis, mus­cle aches, bone pain, headache and mild vi­ral symp­toms.

“Physi­cians can now send a sam­ple of the blood to be tested for the virus, but we don’t have test­ing for se­men yet,” said Dr. Dianna E. Ab­ney, health of­fi­cer for Charles County. “Also, the pa­tient’s blood has to be ap­proved for test­ing through the lo­cal health depart­ment, but it’s based on spe­cific guid­ance from the CDC. As we have more ex­pe­ri­ence other test­ing will be rec­om­mended and even made manda­tory. There’s a spec­trum and we don’t know where it’s lead­ing us yet, but at least now we are look­ing at it and we will find more things out.”

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