The North Shore University Hospital Center for Maternal Fetal Health has opened a Zika in Pregnancy Clinic for expectant mothers who have recently travelled to the Caribbean, South America, Latin America and other locales linked to the Zika virus.
While some cases of the mosquito-borne infection are mild with flu-like symptoms, such as body aches, fevers, rash, and red eyes, 80 percent of individuals infected with the Zika virus are asymptomatic.
Zika can cause birth defects in pregnant women. In countries affected by Zika, there has been a significant increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, a congenital birth defect marked by small head size and poor brain development.
Since fear of Zika took hold in the United States last month, the hospital's Center for Maternal Fetal Health has been receiving more than 10 phone calls a day from nervous moms-to-be, inquiring about the risk to their fetus and testing for the virus.
"When you have something like Zika that comes out of nowhere and there's so much fear and demand for answers in the community, it's better to concentrate the efforts in a coherent program," explained Burton Rochelson, MD, chief of maternal fetal medicine at Northwell Health and director of obstetrics at North Shore University Hospital. "We felt that we'd be able to meet that demand this way. It's a needed service for both pregnant moms, who are understandably anxious, and for their physicians"
Zika testing requires paperwork and approval by the New York State Department of Health for every patient, a process which may be taxing for many busy OB/GYN practices, said Dr. Rochelson.
Starting Wednesday, March 9, Maternal Fetal Medicine consultations, including viral testing, will be offered at North Shore University Hospital on Wednesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Prior to testing, pregnant women need to call 1-844-MFM-DOCS-option #1 to set up a Maternal-Fetal Medicine consultation. At the hospital, the patient's medical history will be taken, and the fetal risks of Zika virus will be discussed. Most of this will be in the context of reassurance, as fortunately to date there have been no locally acquired cases of the Zika virus in the United States. We will then obtain approval from the NYS Department of Health for Zika virus testing.
The test involves two blood draws, one to check for viral particles in the mother's blood and the other for antibodies to see if she was exposed to the virus. Blood samples will be sent to the DOH's Wadsworth Arbovirus Laboratory in Albany for processing. Results for the first blood test take about 24 hours, but results on exposure can take up to two weeks.
An ultrasound will also be performed for women who test positive for the virus to check for calcium deposits in the fetal brain and liver, which has been linked to Zika infection. When appropriate, arrangements will be made for serial ultrasounds to evaluate fetal head size for the unlikely development of microcephaly.
North Shore University Hospital is one of the flagship hospitals of Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-LIJ Health System), New York State's largest health care provider and private employer. With 21 hospitals and nearly 450 outpatient practices, we serve more than 1.8 million people annually in the metro New York area and beyond. Our 61,000 employees work to change health care for the better. We're making breakthroughs in medicine at the Feinstein Institute. We're training the next generation of medical professionals at the visionary Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine and the School of Graduate Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies. And we offer health insurance through CareConnect. For information on our services in more than 100 medical specialties, visit Northwell.edu