‘We’re learning with patients’ about Zika, Florida doctor says ahead of tourism season

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More than four million Canadians head to Florida every year, and when cooler weather supports plans to travel south, they’re looking for ways to protect themselves.

The trouble — at least for peace of mind — is that doctors are relying solely on health agencies as their source of information to reassure travellers looking for answers.

Mosquitoes have now infected 50 people with Zika virus in Miami, where some doctors are having a difficult time giving advice on how people can protect themselves.

Johanna Mikkola moved to Florida from Toronto just over two years ago. She’s now 35 weeks into her pregnancy, and was living in the epicentre of the outbreak earlier this summer.

Despite signs all is going well with the pregnancy, she’s still worried.

Zika checks in pregnancy

Johanna Mikkola, who was living in Miami for part of her pregnancy, says there is still a lot of uncertainty about how the Zika virus may be a threat to women like her. (CBC)

“I’m not even living in Miami any more. I barely go outside. I’ve done all my Zika checks. Baby is great. The biggest thing is, I don’t know if we are being overly cautious, or not cautious enough,” she told CBC.

“And that uncertainty? From the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to doctors, no one can give you a straight answer,” she said.

Dr. Aaron Elkin, an obstetrician and gynecologist, has been delivering babies in south Florida for over 30 years. He says there is little research on Zika he can pass along for reassurance, and has few answers for his patients.

‘They are fearful’

“They are fearful, because when they’re learning about the devastating effect — and by the way, I think we’re learning with the patients now — it’s almost like the recommendations that we are writing now are in pencil, so we have to change them in a month,” Elkin said.

The virus has been in the Americas since 2005. The first cases of people acquiring Zika from mosquitos were reported in an area just north of downtown Miami in July.

Brazil Losing to Zika

Zika infection during pregnancy can cause babies to be born with small heads and other brain-related birth defects. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)

The Public Health Agency of Canada is advising women who are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant to avoid travel to places where the Zika virus has been confirmed.

If people still need to travel to those destinations, the agency says they should take these precautions:

  • Sleep under a mosquito net.
  • Use an insect repellent.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Look for safe accommodations, with screened doors and windows.

There is evidence that Zika infection in pregnancy can cause a range of birth defects, such as brain abnormalities, and that the damaging effects of Zika infection in newborns might not be evident until the infant develops.

Scientists are working on 18 different vaccines. Only one has made it to testing phase, and they don’t expect it to be ready before the year 2018.

In the meantime, there is hope cooler temperatures may help shrink the mosquito populations. ​

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‘We’re learning with patients’ about Zika, Florida doctor says ahead of tourism season

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