Health Care

Miami is ‘ground zero’ for outbreak of Zika virus, doctor warns

Don’t be scared. Be informed.

That’s the message experts at Baptist Health South Florida wanted their audience to take away after an information session about the Zika virus and pregnancy Wednesday evening.

About 40 men and women attended Zika and Pregnancy: What You Need to Know at the Baptist Health Resource Center to ask questions and listen to presentations from Dr. Michael Jacobs, a reproductive endocrinologist, and Barbara Russell, director of infection control at the hospital.

Questions focused on vaccine development, when a pregnant or new mother and her child are at risk and prevention tips.

“We don’t want to scare people,” said Dr. Jason James, chairman of the hospital’s department of obstetrics and gynecology and the event's moderator. “But our goal here is to educate people so they make appropriate choices.”

He said Miami is “ground zero” for a possible outbreak because of the tropical weather, the number of Latin American travelers and the Aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus mosquitoes that are present in South Florida.

“We’re really in a stage of prevention right now,” he said.

Miami-Dade County has the most Zika cases in the state, with 51 cases as of Wednesday. Broward has the second most number of cases, at 19. Florida had 172 cases as of Wednesday, including 38 cases involving pregnant women regardless of symptoms, according to the Florida Department of Health. All of the cases are travel related.

Pregnant women are considered to be at greater risk from the virus after recent research reported a link between an outbreak of Zika in Brazil and a concurrent spike in microcephaly, a birth defect in which a child is born with an underdeveloped brain and an abnormally small head. The virus has been sexually transmitted from men to their partners or through bites from Aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus mosquitoes.

Jacobs recommended that men use latex condoms to prevent transmission and that a couple wait at least eight weeks after the last date of possible exposure to the virus before trying to conceive. If there has been definite exposure, he said women should wait at least eight weeks and men six months before trying to conceive because the virus lasts longer in sperm than in blood.

Jacobs said he wouldn’t stop considering pregnancy because of the outbreak. He said some couples have frozen their sperm before traveling to avoid the wait afterward.

“I don’t believe you avoid things just because something might happen,” he said. “I wouldn’t change your lifestyle because of it.”

Russell warned the audience about avoiding mosquito bites. While there haven’t been any cases transmitted locally, she said it’s still a possibility.

She recommended wearing long sleeves and pants, getting rid of standing water and avoiding heavily scented perfume or lotion.

“We all have a responsibility to protect,” she said, adding that mosquitoes could carry other serious diseases like West Nile and malaria.

Last week, Gov. Rick Scott issued a letter to President Obama calling for immediate federal action to help Florida officials fight the spread of the virus. President Obama requested $1.9 billion in federal funds earlier this year to combat Zika; Congress has held up his request.

Angeline Falcon, 32, came to the session because she’s looking to complete an embryo transmission in the next two weeks. She canceled a summer vacation to the Caribbean to avoid possible infection, but was not nearly as worried after listening to the experts.

“I’m a bit reassured that I can go forward with my protocol,” she said.

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