Zika: Hospitals develop programs to combat virus, funding issues remain

Malaria mosquito

As mosquito season begins in the U.S., hospitals in states along the Gulf Coast are bracing for potential Zika outbreaks, with many launching programs to treat pregnant women and newborns infected with the virus.

Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas are at the highest risk for Zika, Thomas Scott, an epidemiologist at UC Davis, told NPR.  

Zika is most dangerous to pregnant women--the virus is linked to microcephaly in newborns--so Scott urges that even women who live in low-risk regions, such as the Southeast, the Southwest and the Mid-Atlantic, to take precautions. 

To deal with the potential cases, some hospitals have launched programs to specifically target Zika patients, according to USA Today. For example, Children's Health System in Washington created the Congenital Zika Virus Program to treat and advise pregnant women and newborns infected with the virus. Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital in Houston have also developed similar programs.

Children's will accept referrals to their program from across the country, and the hospital has already treated five pregnant women with Zika and three babies, according to the article. Adre du Plessis, director of the Fetal Medicine Institute at Children's National told USA Today that the program will provide patients with access to needed blood tests and a team of specialists including pediatric neurologists, physical therapists, infectious disease experts and neurodevelopmental physicians.

Meanwhile, a vaccine for Zika is in the early stages, and Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with Mother Jones, it could be ready for testing as early as September. Fauci said that federal funding--which is up for a vote Tuesday in the Senate--will ensure that needed clinical trials occur.

Lack of funding for Zika is a huge concern for hospitals. A new survey of 329 hospitals released by the National Association of County & City Health Officials found half of local hospitals were concerned about the impacts of funds being shifted from Public Health Emergency Preparedness grants to fund the national battle against Zika. According to the studies, the surveyed health facilities fear this shuffling could impact their own attempts to combat Zika.

To learn more:
- read the NPR article
- read the USA Today article

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