Zika: An opportunity to improve pre-conception care.

by Andrea L. Kalfoglou, Ph.D.

The Zika virus is spreading rapidly throughout parts of South and Central America. Public health officials are concerned because there is a correlation between the emergence of the Zika virus and a dramatic increase in number of babies born in Brazil with a severe birth defect called microcephaly.

The CDC has warned women from the U.S. who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant not to travel to certain areas in Central and South America. Additionally, infectious disease specialists are concerned that Zika may adapt to transmission by a type of mosquito common in 32 states in the U.S.

There is no commercial test available to diagnose Zika; however, there are testing protocols available through the CDC and some state health departments.

According to Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, researchers are working to develop a diagnostic test that could be widely available. If such a test becomes available, pregnant women may seek out this test to determine whether they have been infected. Additionally, because microcephaly is such a severe birth defect, women considering pregnancy may begin to request diagnostic testing for Zika. This consumer-driven demand for pre-conception testing could create a window of opportunity to improve delivery of pre-conception care should primary-care providers seize on this opportunity.

Pre-conception care is not routinely provided to women of reproductive age. Primary-care providers have said this is because women do not seek out this care and primary-care providers do not have time to provide this care given all of the competing health-prevention needs.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.