The White House has declared this week Zika Provider Action Week. This call to action could not come at a better time. The Zika virus has occupied our profession and our patients nearly non-stop since news of it broke last fall. There is no doubt that Zika presents a very real concern to patients and challenge to health care providers. With the discovery of virus transmission by mosquitoes here in the United States, many of us are faced with the even more real possibility of treating patients with potential or confirmed exposure.
As ob-gyns, we are on the front lines of patients’ concerns about Zika. As each new finding is played out in the news, our patients call or come in looking for answers to help their understanding of the risk, and more often than not, assuage their fears. Unfortunately, in the instance of Zika, we too are often scrambling for knowledge, seeking elusive answers from research institutions and government agencies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has done an admirable job working quickly and efficiently to assess, address, and educate the American public about the Zika outbreak.
But when it comes to helping patients reach the right understanding and make the right decisions, health care providers remain one of the primary and most important sources for patients. With the arrival of local Zika transmission in the U.S., there is even greater responsibility in the medical community to help educate all citizens about the virus. We will undoubtedly face a number of questions from our highest risk patients, women who are pregnant or trying to conceive and their partners. Our goal should always be to provide them (and all patients) with the most up-to-date knowledge to make informed decisions about their health care.
To help with that effort, ACOG maintains a suite of resources on Zika, including a recently updated practice advisory. The updated advisory includes notable changes, including the CDC’s travel guidelines for pregnant women, women trying to conceive and their partners to the counties with active Zika transmission in Florida; as well as calls for increased screening of pregnant women throughout the entirety of their pregnancy.
Likewise, we must do our part to share with each other what we are learning when treating women who test positive for the virus. The CDC has established a Zika pregnancy registry to track diagnosis and monitoring of patients with Zika – an invaluable tool for immediate and long term research and analysis.
We must also call on Congress and federal, state and local government agencies to do their part in this fight. Congress left during the height of mosquito season for a 7-week summer recess without passing a bill to fund Zika virus efforts. We need Congress to act to improve Zika virus prevention and response, including access to contraception – our best defense against Zika-associated birth defects, and avoid these devastating outcomes. Your Members of Congress need to hear from you that this is a priority for you and your patients. ACOG’s government affairs team makes contacting Members of Congress easier than ever. In addition, many Members will use their summer recess for face-to-face time with their constituents at local town halls. I urge you to attend a town hall with your Members of Congress and impress upon them the urgent need for Zika funding. ACOG’s government affairs team has prepared a town hall toolkit complete with tips and talking points.
I am hopeful that by committing, as women’s health care providers, to monitoring developments about Zika and educating patients at every opportunity, we will help ease the impact of Zika in the United States. As always, ACOG is here to support ob-gyns facing difficult questions treating patients and to fight to ensure our patients have access to well informed and superior care.