Seven American Samoan Babies Born To Zika Infected Mothers; No Birth Defects

Despite no signs of microcephaly, children still in the screening process

By Blue Chen-Fruean

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, July 21, 2016) – Altogether, seven babies have been born in American Samoa to mothers who tested positive for the Zika virus — while the total number of pregnant women who have tested for Zika is 16. The remaining nine women are still awaiting childbirth.

The best news is, none of the seven newborns showed any signs of microcephaly, a birth defect associated with babies born to Zika infected mothers. The abnormality typically causes incomplete brain development, as those affected are born with small heads.

A DOH official said that while no signs of microcephaly are apparent, the babies in question are still in the screening process and it is tough to say whether these children will grow up with other complications. Routine checks and screenings are ‘a must’ when these babies are brought in for their immunization shots and other appointments.

These babies, along with others who will be delivered in the future by Zika infected mothers, will continue to be monitored by DOH. Expectant mothers who have tested positive for the Zika virus will be put on ‘high risk’ status and will be closely monitored by DOH staff in the months leading up to childbirth.

Last month, DOH records showed that over 200 local women were in their third trimester of pregnancy; meaning dozens of babies were delivered over the past few weeks.

Pregnant women are reminded that they are eligible for free screening, free laboratory tests, and free prenatal care at any of the DOH clinics across the territory. Statistics show that women are getting pregnant every week and the number is expected to continue growing, so prevention of the Zika infection is key.

To date, according to information from the Department of Health (DOH), over 140 samples of suspected Zika cases have been sent off island for testing and a total of 44 local residents are confirmed to have Zika. Of that number, 28 are from the general population while 16 are pregnant women.

As of yesterday, a total of 740 suspected cases of Zika were recorded in American Samoa. These are people who show signs and symptoms of having the virus.

For the general population, a prediction on whether or not the territory will be free from the virus in the near future is “very difficult to say” at this time, says a DOH official who explained that their office can only ‘track’ how far along the outbreak is, in the territory, but the exact progress — or decline — is hard to pinpoint because only 20% of those with Zika actually show signs of having the virus.

“The other 80% don’t show any symptoms and that makes it hard for us,” he added.

The DOH official added that since the weather has been cooler, there seems to be a decrease in the number of suspected cases but again, “nobody really knows”.

As far as keeping the virus contained, DOH officials agree that it will be difficult because the island is full of mosquitoes and they are the ones that spread the disease. While efforts to rid a certain village of mosquito breeding grounds may be successful, they may be reproducing at a high rate in the next village over.

This week, as part of the clean-up efforts, the DOH Environmental Services Division kicked off the ‘trash and scrap metal pick-up’ project in Leone. The work is not limited to one village. Instead, anyone who has excess garbage, scrap metal, and trash items that need to be hauled away can call the DOH at 633-4606 to schedule a pick-up time. The service is free of charge.

Samoa News understands that DOH personnel have run into problems with some families across the territory, people who refuse to part with scrap metal and other large debris items near and around their homes.

It’s a classic case of “hoarders” right here at home.

Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced that it would provide $742,000 to health centers in American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands to help address the Zika virus.

According to the HHS, the funds will go to three heath care centers. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in a statement, “Our goal is to reduce the risk of Zika virus, especially among pregnant women and women of childbearing age. We are taking the necessary steps now... to support Zika preparedness and response efforts.”

Since the Zika virus arrived in the territory, the DOH has continued to provide outreach services to inform the community about prevention measures. In addition, “Zika Prevention Kits” containing mosquito nets, repellant spray cans, and condoms have been distributed to all pregnant women who seek prenatal care at either the DOH community health centers or the LBJ Medical Center.

The prevention kits will continue to be distributed, while supplies last.

Meanwhile, Zika testing is ongoing at all of the DOH community health centers — free of charge — for anyone who thinks they might have the virus.

The goal is to keep practicing transmission prevention. This means staying indoors, using mosquito nets and bug repellant sprays, and using condoms, as the disease is known to be transmitted through sexual intercourse.

Outreach efforts have extended as far out as the Manu’a Islands and Aunu’u where not a single positive case for Zika has been recorded — yet.

The DOH has no definite count on the age or sex of those suspected to have the virus. The fact is, Zika can — and will — affect anyone.

The Samoa News
Copyright © 2016. The Samoa News. All Rights Reserved

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