Zika virus: New warning all families need to know

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

The whole world is watching and waiting for something to stop Zika in its tracks and there’s a good chance it’s coming from UTMB Galveston.

Pregnant moms in Houston have reason to be concerned about Zika year-round.

“Where there’ve been so many mosquitoes all times of the year,” said pregnant mom, Toni Walton.

UTMB Ob-Gyn Dr. Abbey Berenson said hundreds of patients in the Galveston and Houston area are not protecting themselves from one of the biggest threats against unborn babies, Zika, which can cause microcephaly.

“It is one of the most detrimental things that can happen to your baby, it is a disaster,” Dr. Berenson said.

Dr. Berenson surveyed more than 600 pregnant women who admit they know about Zika, but not that the virus can be sexually transmitted.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructs pregnant couples not to have sex for the duration of the pregnancy if the male partner travels to affected areas. Affected areas include Florida, the Texas valley and hard hit countries, like Brazil.

Dr. Peiyong Shi and Dr. Scott Weaver let Channel 2 inside the lab where they are working on what some say could be one of the most promising cures to the Zika epidemic. A vaccine they’ve created is effective in mice.

The next trial with larger animals is currently wrapping up.

“They [the Brazilian government] are independently validating the vaccine at the same time so we can really speed up the advancement of the vaccine,” Dr. Peiyong Shi said.

One reason this drug is more coveted than others in the making is because it is a single dose.

“We can intervene very quickly to slow down or stop the outbreak,” Dr. Weaver said.

Weaver said the vaccine starts working within a week and keeps people protected for many years.

“Typically vaccines like these that are live attenuating give protection for at least a decade, often longer,” Dr. Weaver said.

That's one form of protection women seem to be open to, Berenson said of the patients surveyed most say they would get vaccinated.

“At the end of the day, at the end of the nine months, all I want is to have a healthy baby,” Walton said.

Until a vaccine is available, Dr. Berenson insists pregnant women need to use insect repellant with Deet.

Public Health, March of Dimes and Medicaid will provide free insect repellant during pregnancy.

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