On Tuesday, the CDC issued interim Zika-related guidelines for pregnant women, advising those who feel sick and have visited or lived in countries where the Zika virus is spreading to be tested for an infection. The virus has been linked to such birth defects as brain damage and microcephaly — babies being born with unusually small heads. The guidelines say that expecting mothers who experienced Zika symptoms such as a fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes while traveling, or up two weeks after, should get blood tests for the virus, while those without symptoms can remain untested.
The recommendations have caused some consternation among health experts, who noted that some of the tests could provide false positive outcomes, while others aren’t useful until late in the pregnancy. Moreover, 80% of those infected never develop symptoms and it remains unclear whether in those cases the fetus can be affected or not. “That had me scratching my head,” said Dr. William Schaffner, the chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. “Most cases are asymptomatic, and nothing I’ve read says that women need to be symptomatic for the baby to be affected.” The CDC admits that the tests are imperfect and says part of the reason they only recommend testing women showing symptoms is because the nation’s top laboratories simply do not have the capacity to test every pregnant woman who has visited the affected areas in the last nine months. Dr. Schaffner said that the CDC’s testing capability would improve as they speed up distribution of test kits and training, as they’ve done in past epidemics.
Read the full story at The New York Times.