And as summer starts in North America, legislators prepare for break . . .
//Post updated June 22, 2016 with information on potential environmental factors the study will weigh//
Aiming to inform strategies to protect pregnant women and their developing fetuses in Zika endemic areas, a collaborative study by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Brazilian Ministry of Health will start to enroll pregnant women in Puerto Rico this week, and aims to follow as many as 10,000 women for at least a year across a number of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where mosquitoes are spreading the virus, NIH announced today.
The Zika in Infants and Pregnancy — ZIP — study is planned to include sites in Brazil and Columbia as well as other countries and territories experiencing active transmission, that have not been confirmed, and will recruit women through prenatal clinics as well as through other community based facilities. As of mid-June, 60 countries and territories have reported mosquito-borne transmission of Zika, with 46 experiencing their first outbreaks of the virus, and with, so far, a range of impacts, including incidence of microcephaly and incidence of Guillain Barre syndrome.
Among the immediate goals of the ZIP study is to quantify the degree and range of risks the virus poses to developing fetuses, newborns and infants as well as to their mothers. While the virus has been confirmed to cause severely stunted heads and brains as well as miscarriages and stillborn babies, the study also will gather information on a range of Zika-related impacts that include eye and hearing abnormalities, seizures, stiffness, incessant crying, and other behavioral and movement effects caused by virus-inflicted neurological damage. And, while scientists have concluded that Zika infection during the first trimester of pregnancy is most closely tied to incidence of microcephaly in infants, researchers hope to get a better understanding of the risks posed by infection at all stages of pregnancy, as well as by nutrition, socio-economic status, by exposure to other viruses, including dengue, and by other environmental factors. Efforts to determine the last, which will include input from an ongoing U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences study and evaluation of effects of pesticides, toxic chemicals, and sanitation issues, has the potential to shed light on why the impact of the virus has appeared to vary in different locations. In addition, by gathering information on the spectrum of Zika’s potential health impacts, researchers hope to better assess and meet the needs of children affected by the virus.
During the study women will have blood, urine, saliva, and vaginal swabs taken during monthly monitoring visits throughout their pregnancies and six weeks after, and their infants will be examined within 48 hours of birth, at three months, six months, and a year. The study is anticipated to last a year, “and potentially longer,” but a lack of funding could compromise the study’s duration and/or scope, according to NIAID.
In the meantime, the start of North America’s summer on Monday, heralding both the beginning of mosquito season here, and the beginning of a 10-day vacation for Congress that begins Friday brought reminders that time to launch adequate responses to the spread of the virus and its impacts is running short.
More than four and a half months have passed since President Obama’s request for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to fight the spread of Zika and its impacts, with a wide gap separating the responses in May from the U.S. Senate — $1.1 billion and House of Representatives — $622 million out of existing public health budgets — and no definitive action since. The funding was requested to support education, prevention, mosquito control, research for diagnostics, a vaccine, and better understanding of the dangers posed by the virus, noted Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla), who represents the state that has seen more Zika diagnoses than any other — all currently through travel or sexual transmission.
“People’s lives are at stake,” the press release issued by his office Monday said, “the time for inaction is over.”