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Health & Science

Texas Children’s Hospital Opens ‘Zika Clinic’ For Pregnant Women

Texas Children’s Hospital will begin operating a weekly clinic focused on Zika, the virus that is mostly transmitted by mosquitoes. Starting in August, any doctor in the Houston region can refer a pregnant patient to the clinic for evaluation.


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Pregnant Woman Spraying Mosquito Repellant To Protect Against Zika

Starting in August, the new clinic will bring together Texas Children’s specialists on Friday mornings to see patients who have potentially been exposed to the Zika virus. Any doctor from the Houston area can make a referral; previously the specialists had only been seeing patients referred by a TCH-affiliated physician.

"It's a new epidemic still, there's a lot to be learned," said Dr. Martha Rac, a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine.

Since there's no treatment for Zika, the focus will be on testing for the virus and monitoring fetal growth.

The clinic will offer special ultrasounds every 4-6 weeks during pregnancy, beginning at 15 weeks. That’s the earliest point in pregnancy when abnormalities might be spotted, Rac said, and some may not be evident until the third trimester. The most worrying complication is microcephaly, when the infant is born with an abnormally small head and brain, and related neurological impairments.

"We specifically focus, of course, on the CNS, or the central nervous system, the brain of the fetus," Rac said.

One baby has been born in Harris County with microcephaly from Zika. The mother had traveled to Columbia.

Rac points out that most pregnant women exposed to Zika will still have a healthy baby. Thirty percent of infected women may have an infant with some complications from the virus, and they range from mild to severe. But the most severe outcome, microcephaly, is thought to affect just a fraction of those.

"From the literature we know that overall, the rate of microcephaly is one percent,” Rac said. “So that's a low rate. It's not zero, but…the odds are in their favor, is what I like to tell them.”

Texas Children's doctors have already screened about 100 pregnant women. Rac says so far, those pregnancies are going well.

But if at some point that's not the case, and the patient would like to end the pregnancy, her options may be limited.

Texas law prohibits abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, with only a few, very narrowly-defined exceptions.