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U.S. Hospitals Take “Better Safe Than Sorry” Approach to Zika Virus

European Union launches medical corps

Health care providers in the U.S. are adopting a “better safe than sorry” approach to the current Zika virus outbreak, according to an article posted on the FierceHealthcare website.

At the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, for example, health care providers are closely watching daily updates about the virus. “We’re primarily focused on the potential screening and counseling of pregnant women who may have been in an area where Zika transmission is occurring,” said Dr. Steven Gordon, chairman of the clinic’s infectious disease department. He added that decisions about testing will be made in consultation with a patient's obstetrician.

Dr. Stacey Ehrenberg, an obstetrician treating high-risk patients at University Hospitals (UHB), tells pregnant women that there is no need to get tested or to postpone travel plans because cases in states like Florida and Texas almost exclusively involve individuals who have contracted the virus elsewhere. But for pregnant women who have recently traveled to Brazil or another Zika “hot zone,” UH is offering a fetal medicine consultation to assess patients’ risks, test for the virus, and do additional ultrasounds to monitor their babies.

“We’re trying to continue to follow the patients and make sure we’re in close contact with them,” Ehrenberg said. “As more research is being done, and as the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is discovering new issues, we are constantly updating our protocols.”

Dr. Robert Salata, chairman of the infectious disease department at UH, noted that Zika is another example of a re-emerging virus that must be watched very closely.

“The true occurrence of the virus infection resulting in these birth defects, particularly within the central nervous system, is not yet fully determined,” he said. “As with everything, we need to understand that we're still learning as we're seeing more and more cases.”

The CDC recently updated its guidance to say that all pregnant women who have traveled to a Zika-affected area should get tested. Previously, the agency had been recommending testing only for those who were showing symptoms. Even if abnormalities are detected, however, there is no vaccine for Zika or a way to address the potential problems posed by the virus.

Researchers still don’t know what percentage of pregnant women who contract Zika pass it on to their babies or what percentage of infected babies will development microcephaly or other issues, Ehrenberg said.

In related news, the European Union (EU) has launched its own medical corps to respond faster to emergencies, with the capacity to act both within and outside the bloc.

“The aim of the European Medical Corps is to create a much faster and more efficient EU response to health crises when they occur,” said EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid Christos Stylianides. “We need to learn the lessons from the Ebola response; a key difficulty was mobilizing medical teams,” he added in a statement.

Through the new medical entity, EU member states and other participating European countries will make medical teams and assets available for rapid deployment before an emergency strikes—“thus ensuring a faster and more predictable response,” the statement said.

The resources made available could include emergency medical teams, public health and medical coordination experts, mobile biosafety laboratories, medical evacuation planes, and logistical support teams.

In Brazil, the government has launched a nationwide campaign to fight the virus, with President Dilma Rousseff and 27 cabinet ministers, along with 220,000 soldiers, visiting homes and handing out leaflets. The so-called National Day for “Zero Zika” is focused on raising awareness about the disease, Rousseff said. Other operations aimed at spreading larvicides and eliminating breeding spots will be launched later this month.

Sources: FierceHealthcare; February 12, 2016; Medical Xpress; February 15, 2016; and Reuters; February 13, 2016.

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