Jan 20, 2016 09:46 AM EST
The Centers for Disease Control has issued a new protocol on Tuesday, asking doctors whose pregnant clients have recently travelled to areas affected with Zika virus to undergo testing for possible infection. They are also warranted to ask for manifestations of certain symptoms.
Pregnant women are highly encouraged to test for Zika virus infection if they have a history of traveling to Zika-infected locations and reported two or more positive signs associated with the virus during or within 2 weeks of travel. They also have to check if ultrasound results reveal a microcephaly (unusually small head) or intracranial calcifications (presence of calcium deposits in some parts of the brain).
If positive for infection, pregnant women are highly encouraged to undergo serial ultrasound examination to monitor fetal development, then referred to a specialist with expertise in managing pregnancy. Palliative care or symptom management is greatly recommended as there are no available drugs and vaccines against the disease yet.
Earlier this week, Hawaii reported its first Zika virus case linked with birth defects after a baby was born with an unusually small head. The newborn's mother was possibly infected by the virus during her stay in Brazil in May 2015; infection was potentially passed through the womb.
The virus transmission occurs through a mosquito bite. Infection initially results to some mild illnesses, while some do not manifest the symptoms at all.
However, in worst cases, manifestations of the disease inlcude joint pain, fever, rash and conjunctivitis that last for less than a week or so. Although it has not been clinically proven, there are a number of hints associating Zika virus with birth defects including microcephaly.
Thus, the CDC announced last week that pregnant women should highly consider postponing trips to 14 destinations, namely, Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Suriname, El Salvador, Puerto Rico, French Guiana, Paraguay, Guatemala, Panama, Haiti, Mexico, Honduras and Martinique. Even those who are attempting to conceive should visit their primary physicians before visiting the aforementioned regions.
The primary aim of the CDC is to warn expectant mothers of the situation despite lingering questions. There are still many things experts do not know about the virus, including whether Zika really leads to congenital anomalies or maybe there are other factors that could have affected, Dr Tom Frieden, CDC director said.