Pregnant Travelers, Tough Choices on Zika Testing
Feb. 26, 2016 -- Pregnant women who recently traveled to areas where the Zika virus is being spread by mosquitoes are facing a dilemma -- whether or not to get a blood test to check for the infection.
That’s the recommendation by the CDC, even if they don’t show symptoms, don’t remember getting mosquito bites, and never felt ill.
Public health labs around the country are warning doctors that it may take as long as 6 weeks for patients to get results of those tests, resulting in long, anxious waits for information that may be of limited use.
Doctors, too, are resisting the CDC’s advice, afraid women might terminate their pregnancies based solely on blood test results, without waiting for stronger evidence from ultrasound scans that show a fetus has actually been harmed.
A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the Zika virus can cause a devastating birth defect called microcephaly, a condition that causes a baby to be born with an abnormally small head and brain damage. Some children born with severe cases may die soon after birth. Others who live could need a lifetime of medical care, therapy, and support services.
Ultrasound scans often don’t reveal the telltale signs of microcephaly or other birth defects until after the 24th week of pregnancy, when a woman is in her third trimester. That’s well after most states say it’s legal to get an abortion.
“That’s a problem in terms of making a decision about the pregnancy,” says Alfred DeMaria, MD, who directs the public health laboratory for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
DeMaria says some obstetricians have told him they are discouraging patients from getting the blood test, against the CDC’s guidelines.
“What the general public hears is that, 'If I had Zika, I’m going to have a baby with microcephaly,'” DeMaria says. “That’s a false notion.”
Yet new findings out Friday from the CDC suggest that women might be right to be worried. Of the nine confirmed Zika infections in pregnant women who had traveled to other countries and returned to the U.S., only two have resulted in apparently healthy births so far.