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Zika precautions suggested for the pregnant

BY CHARLOTTE TWINE Free Press Staff

ctwine@keysnews.com

MONROE COUNTY — Though the Florida Keys has so far evaded the mosquito-borne Zika virus that has infected 37 people in Florida as of Feb. 27, local physicians and health officials are beginning to encourage pregnant women to take some preventative measures.

“We don’t have Zika in Monroe County to our knowledge,” Dr. Mark Whiteside, medical director for the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County, told the Free Press. “But we, of course, don’t want it. With our 2009-2010 dengue experience, we feel like we’re as prepared as anywhere else. We have the strongest mosquito control program in the state, but it’s everybody’s responsibility ultimately.”

Whiteside explained the primary carrier of Zika is the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also carries dengue. When there was an outbreak of dengue in the Florida Keys seven years ago, Whiteside helped promote an initiative with the slogan/acronym “ABCD: Action to Break the Cycle of Dengue.”

This slogan was to remind Monroe County residents that they could take action to prevent attracting the Aedes aegypti mosquito, primarily by keeping their home and yard clean of containers that collect water and calling the county’s mosquito control department when they see a problem.

“It takes a village to control Aedes aegypti,” said Whiteside. “We want to continue to apply those principles.”

The Florida Department of Health announced last week that all of the 37 people who have the Zika virus in Florida became infected while traveling outside the state. Of those 37, three are pregnant women.

A suspected link exists between having the Zika virus while pregnant and a birth defect called microcephaly, a condition marked by an abnormal smallness of the head and brain developmental issues.

Whiteside recommends that pregnant women in Monroe County should get tested for Zika virus only if they have traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and are exhibiting the symptoms of the virus, such as a rash or conjunctivitis. Affected countries include Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and those in Central America and South America, with Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia being the hardest hit.

“The [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommends if you can avoid it, do not travel to countries infected by Zika,” Whiteside said. But he noted that if you do come back from Brazil with a rash, the state will do the testing for you — just ask your primary care physician or an ER for how to get the test.

“There have been documented but rare sexual transmissions of Zika,” Whiteside said. “A number of cases are under investigation in the state. But if your significant other has recently traveled to Zika-affected countries, it’s recommended you keep it safe with a condom or abstain from sex altogether if you’re pregnant.”

Dr. Randy Fink, an obstetrician in Tavernier, told the Free Press that pregnant patients have been coming to him with concerns and questions about the Zika virus. He said that he tries to reassure them yet also gently recommends taking preventative measures.

“Fortunately, the risk of getting the Zika virus is very low here, almost non-existent,” he said. “But the lesson the CDC wants us to be aware of is: Protection works.”

Fink has been recommending to his patients who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant that they wear protective clothing and insect repellent with DEET when they know they will be around mosquitoes. And he agrees with Whiteside’s suggestions about either abstaining from sex altogether or using protection during vaginal, anal or oral intercourse with a partner who has visited a Zika-affected country.

Yet Fink knows it may be difficult for some to avoid traveling. 

“In this area, I have a lot of patients who want or need to travel to affected countries,” he said. “But I feel telling people not to see family is a bit heavy-handed. I did have a patient who was trying to get pregnant, and she had the possibility to go to the Dominican Republic. She asked me, ‘Should I go?’ I told her, ‘I probably wouldn’t go.

 

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