OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

Zika Prevention Must Remain a Priority

While families across the country celebrated Mother’s Day on May 14, many mothers continue to face a much harsher reality brought on by the devastating effects of the Zika virus.

According to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 10 pregnant women infected with Zika in the U.S. had a fetus or a baby with serious birth defects. The CDC’s findings highlight the need to emphasize the serious threat posed by Zika virus infection during pregnancy, and the critical need for pregnant women to continue taking measures to prevent Zika virus exposure through mosquito bites and sexual transmission. 

Recognizing the severity of the Zika virus and its broader implications for pregnant women and their babies, the CDC and the CDC Foundation put out a call to private and philanthropic organizations to assist in efforts to protect at-risk populations most likely to be impacted by the Zika virus. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores Foundation was among the many organizations to respond.

The NACDS Foundation’s campaign was launched in May 2016 with radio and digital messaging in Puerto Rico to educate and empower women and their families, urging them to talk with their physician or pharmacist about Zika prevention measures. The NACDS Foundation also provided a webinar led by experts from the March of Dimes Foundation and the University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy to prepare pharmacists with education on Zika prevention measures and on patient counseling to reduce transmission and contraction of the virus.

Through the course of the NACDS Foundation’s efforts, a compelling issue emerged that continues to be deeply troubling to this day. That issue is a lack of awareness and understanding of the continued threat of the Zika virus. This lack of awareness is surfacing in the NACDS Foundation’s current interview tour on radio stations in Texas, Louisiana and Florida.

A frequent question posed to one of the campaign’s spokespersons, Jeffrey Bratberg, PharmD, BCPS, clinical professor of pharmacy practice, University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy, is: “Why should we still be concerned?” The CDC’s report makes it very clear that Zika continues to be a threat to pregnant women across the U.S., with women in 44 states reporting evidence of Zika in 2016.

The CDC cautions that as warmer weather and a new mosquito season approach, it is imperative to protect the health of mothers and babies. Health care providers can play a key role in prevention efforts by screening all pregnant women for possible Zika virus infection. Infants born to women with evidence of Zika should be tested and evaluated. Zika infection during pregnancy can cause brain damage and microcephaly in unborn babies and lead to other serious birth defects.

Mother’s Day and the one-year anniversary of various Zika-prevention initiatives provide added impetus for a call to action to protect pregnant women, their unborn babies and infants from preventable suffering. Zika is not only still a threat; it has proven to carry even more serious consequences than were previously known.

Summer is right around the corner and mosquitoes will reappear, increasing the risk of transmitting the virus. People need to assess their risk by talking to their physician or their pharmacist and by visiting the CDC Zika website and the NACDS Foundation website to know where Zika is being transmitted and what to do to prevent the damaging effects of the virus.

Let’s make sure that by next Mother’s Day, the number of pregnant women and their babies affected by the virus has been dramatically reduced.

 

Kathleen Jaeger is the president of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Foundation.

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