(Feature) Zika virus infection among pregnant mothers does not always cause microcephaly –DOH

February 15, 2016 11:34 pm 

By Leilani S. Junio

MANILA, Feb. 10 (PNA) — The Department of Health (DOH) has clarified that it is not true that pregnant women who may have Zika virus infection will likely produce babies with birth defect called microcephaly.

Dr. Lyndon Lee Suy, DOH spokesperson, made the clarification in a health forum conducted by the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) on Tuesday at Annabel’s Restaurant on Tomas Morato Ave., Quezon City.

Microcephaly is a congenital disorder wherein the baby’s brain does not achieve full development, which makes the head of the baby smaller in size than expected when compared to babies of the same age and sex.

This birth defect most often occurs because the brain does not grow at a normal rate while a baby is in the womb and during infancy.

The congenital disorder is currently being feared and correlated to Zika virus infection, especially in brazil where over 4,000 babies have been recorded with microcephaly.

According to Dr. Lee Suy, studies done by experts have not clearly and exactly established any direct link between Zika infection and microcephaly during a mother's pregnancy, although he admitted that such a thing should not be downplayed at all and need continuous studies.

He also explained that microcephaly is only one of the complications of Zika virus and that not all microcephaly cases are due to Zika infection among mothers.

“Another thing that needs to be cleared also is that not all pregnant women that are diagnosed with Zika will eventually give birth to a baby na may microcephaly… Hindi ganoon…. Although there’s a strong correlation between pregnancy and Zika na nakakapag-produce ng isang baby na may microcephaly,” he said.

He said that as of now, the underlying causes of microcephaly are still being studied by experts and there is still no clear explanation on that.

Some microcephaly cases can be due to contributing factors like genetics, malnutrition, drugs, etc., and therefore pre- and post-natal check-ups are being required among pregnant mothers to ensure that their babies will be healthy while inside their womb and after giving birth.

Lee Suy made the clarification as he cited that there were 300 microcephaly cases recorded in the county in the past 10 years.

The Health spokesperson noted that if such cases were distributed each year in particular, the results were too small (about 30 per year) and could not be connected to Zika virus.

He said that currently, the DOH Epidemiology Bureau is undertaking related studies on the cases to trace the places of occurrence of the cases and the possible underlying reasons or affecting circumstances like if such were travel-related, etc., that led to the recorded microcephaly cases.

“Our epidemiologists will need to look into that,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr. Arthur Dessi Roman, a fellow of the Philippine Society of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (PSMID), said in the same forum they welcomed the call from the DOH for their participation in the conduct of strong research and studies about microcephaly and its possible link to Zika virus infection.

Dr. Roman added that they will also conduct further research based on the results that will be taken from the testing kits that will be utilized in the evaluation of suspected Zika cases with priority on those who come from Zika-affected areas and displaying symptoms of the disease.

He explained that part of their studies will focus on tracing how long the virus can exactly stay in the system of a patient; if the mothers of microcephaly babies had been sick with Zika during their pregnancy; and if the body will develop antibodies upon exposure to Zika virus.

According to Dr. Roman, they will also check the possibility of the existence of Zika in the country at present, which is probably just not being obvious because about 75 percent of Zika-infected persons do not display the symptoms.

“We will also look into that possibility because if we will recall, the first patient detected in 2012 in the country had no history of travel at all, yet he got the Zika virus infection (in Cebu City)," he said.

Since the detection of that first case, no other Zika cases was recorded in the country.

Zika can be transmitted through mosquito bites (from a carrier) coming or has travel history from a Zika-affected country, through sexual transmission (men's semen), and blood transfusion.

In terms of severity, Zika is milder compared to dengue.

Like other infectious diseases, Zika can cause fatality among patients with co-morbid conditions.

It is strongly advised that health-seeking behavior be improved, especially among the people who come from Zika-affected areas or who have travel history in the countries where Zika has been reported to be existing to help in preventing its spread in the country.

Travellers arriving from countries wherein there is widespread Zika infection/transmission have been advised to fill out honestly the health declaration checklist and voluntarily notify the DOH for testing in case they suspect that they possess the Zika virus with them and displaying the symptoms to prevent local transmission.

Zika's symptoms are fever lasting for two days, rashes, joint pain, and conjunctivitis or inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eye.

The DOH has repeatedly said that limiting the density of the population of mosquitoes that have more capabilities to transmit the virus is an important factor in the prevention of Zika in the country which can be done through community involvement in the cleanliness of the environment.

Part of that is destroying the possible breeding sites of mosquitoes like ensuring that old tires are not filled with water, water vases are cleansed or the water is replaced in regular basis, disposing garbage like cans and bottles properly, putting covers on water containers and covering the pails or drums for stored water. (PNA)

SCS/LSJ/EDS

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