With the Zika virus spreading across North and South America, Feinberg faculty members convened a seminar to discuss the virology and epidemiology of the virus and risks associated for travelers and pregnant women.
“What is unique to the current outbreak in the Americas is maternal-fetal transmission and sexual transmission,” said Chad Achenbach, ’02 MD, ’02 MPH, assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases. “This is unique and unprecedented for a Flavivirus to be transmitted as a sexually transmitted infection.”
Transmitted to humans primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species of mosquito, the Zika virus is in the genus Flavivirus, which also includes Dengue, Yellow Fever and West Nile viruses. As of Feb. 24, there have been more than a hundred travel-associated Zika virus disease cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and one case in the Chicago area.
Dr. Achenbach presented on the virology of the virus and the symptoms, which include rash, fever, joint pain and conjunctivitis, and discussed the challenges in distinguishing the Zika viruses from other related viruses in diagnostic tests. He also shared an overview of the epidemiology of the virus, the neurologic complications observed in large outbreaks and current CDC recommendations for travelers.
While the illness is usually mild, Emily Miller, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, brought up possible links between the virus and microcephaly – a clinical finding where a baby’s head is smaller and brain possibly not developed properly – and other birth defects in babies.
“While we are left with these pathologic findings and epidemiologic associations, we can’t say causality at this point – we still need more data – but it is highly suggestive that maternal Zika virus infection is associated with developmental microcephaly,” Dr. Miller said.
During the seminar, Dr. Miller highlighted information that is still not known, including the incidence of maternal-fetal transmission, the magnitude of the risk of microcephaly and the full spectrum of phenotypes in affected fetuses.
She also presented current recommendations in prevention, screening algorithms in patients who are pregnant and how physicians can talk to their patients about potential exposures.
“I really enjoyed Dr. Miller’s description of microcephaly and what we need to do for women who may be infected and to manage the care of a woman who is pregnant,” said Michael Angarone, DO, assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and of Medical Education.
The presentation was sponsored by the Center for Global Health in Institute for Public Health and Medicine (IPHAM).