Op-Ed

Pregnant women must remain vigilant against Zika

The Aedes aegypti is the same mosquito species that transmits Zika, dengue and chikungunya, viruses all related to yellow fever.
The Aedes aegypti is the same mosquito species that transmits Zika, dengue and chikungunya, viruses all related to yellow fever.

Summer officially is here and, in Florida, we are already feeling record-breaking temperatures. The heat and humidity common to our region is bringing back the threat of Zika. Cases of the disease continue to be reported regularly, and because of that we urge pregnant women to stay vigilant and get tested for this life-altering virus. There is currently no vaccine to prevent Zika virus infection.

According to data as of June 5, there were 56 combined travel and locally acquired cases reported in Florida, with 45* pregnant women showing evidence of Zika.

And it’s only June.

For pregnant women, more than any other demographic, the Zika virus still is a serious concern. No longer are the cases solely travel associated. Local transmissions throughout the county are still happening. In 2016, there were 262 local transmissions in Florida and more than 1,000 travel-related cases. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has eliminated Zika “zones,” the virus has not been eliminated completely. We are still at risk. The CDC currently advises all pregnant women who live or traveled to Miami-Dade County get tested for the Zika virus.

The Healthy Start Coalition of Miami Dade (HSCMD) is at the forefront of this battle.

The Florida Department of Health has designated the Healthy Start Program to provide case management for all women tested for Zika in Miami-Dade County. We provide universal risk screening to all of the county’s pregnant women and infants to identify those at risk for poor birth, health and developmental outcomes. HSCMD has licensed, master’s-level therapists to provide individualized case management through the Healthy Start Program to women who test for Zika in the county.

Our team of case managers, social workers, and counselors offer targeted support services that address identified risks. In addition to our relationship with the Florida Department of Health, we have a strong working relationship with the Miami-Dade County Health Department, which also oversees clinical testing for the Zika virus. On average, through the Healthy Start and MomCare programs, our organization oversees screening and provision of services to about 500 pregnant women every week.

Zika is the most high profile risk we face today. To date, HSCMD has provided case management to more than 1,500 pregnant women who went to the clinics managed by the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade. We are doing everything we can to make sure that women are receiving the education and resources they need to protect themselves. In addition to the latest information on Zika, the women in our program receive, free of charge, a long-sleeved maternity shirt, condoms and mosquito repellant.

There are practical efforts pregnant women can take to protect themselves from getting the virus (either from a mosquito or from sex). The CDC recommends pregnant women protect themselves day and night by wearing insect repellant, covering skin with long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and mosquito-proofing your home by using screens on windows and doors, air conditioning when available and eliminating standing water. Additionally, the CDC advises that pregnant women living in an area exposed to Zika avoid sex during pregnancy or use a condom every time during pregnancy.

According to the CDC, the best practice for pregnant women who live in or frequently travel to an area with Zika, even if they do not show symptoms, is to get tested in the first and second trimester of pregnancy. HSCMD encourages all pregnant women in Miami-Dade County to get tested at one of the clinics managed by the Florida Department of Health or through their obstetrician or gynecologist.

Zika has been linked to microcephaly, a serious birth defect, which can result in medical problems and impaired development for infants. With its confirmed impact on fetuses, it is important now, more than ever, to be informed of the serious repercussions and help fight the effects of this virus.

We need to do everything we can to help the most at-risk of our community get a healthy start.

Manuel Fermin is chief executive officer of the Healthy Start Coalition of Miami-Dade.

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