Doc: Microcephaly just 'tip of the iceberg' with Zika

With health officials struggling to eradicate the mosquitoes spreading Zika in Miami, many are concerned that the battle against the virus may soon hit their home. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Tom Frieden said last week that mosquito-control efforts in Miami’s Wynwood arts district where 15 people have been infected are not producing the results officials had hoped for, suggesting the insects may be resistant to the insecticides being used. Across the country, the California Department of Public Health reported that two babies have been born with Zika-related microcephaly to mothers who acquired the infection outside of the United States, serving as a stark reminder that the virus can do more than cause flu-like symptoms.

While the CDC recommends using an insect repellent and wearing long-sleeved clothes to prevent mosquito bites, many are searching for additional steps to help keep their family protected.

Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing health editor for sat down with the medical director for the March of Dimes, Dr. Edward McCabe to talk about the organization’s new #ZapZika campaign to help educate the public on how to protect themselves and their families.

Dr. Manny: What is the #ZapZika campaign?

McCabe: So it's a social messaging campaign, #ZapZika, and it's really to let people know some simple things you can do to protect yourself and your family from the Zika virus. One of the things is use spray to keep the mosquitoes away. Make sure the spray is Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered and a number of things like that, but the key thing is we want to educate the public so that they can protect themselves from the Zika virus.

Dr. Manny: What do you think is going on in our federal government in regards to funding for research and what's needed?

McCabe: Well, we were disappointed. The March of Dimes put together a coalition of over 80 organizations interested in preventing the Zika virus from harming babies, really protecting moms and families from this virus. We were disappointed that Congress went out for its summer vacation without passing any legislation to appropriate funding for this. So we worked very hard and to say disappointed is not saying enough.

Dr. Manny: What should we be telling women in general about conception, prevention and if they [are] pregnant?

McCabe: Well women should plan to get pregnant. Fifty percent of the pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so we really think that part of the message is plan your pregnancy. Think about whether this is the right time for you to have a family [if you live in an affected area]. If you are planning a pregnancy and you think you, the woman, has been exposed or have shown symptoms, wait at least eight weeks until the onset of the symptoms until you get pregnant. And use condoms or don't have sex during that time. If the male partner has been infected, then we're recommending wait six months, because it stays in the semen a lot longer than it stays in the blood. We know it's been documented for 93 days in one gentleman.

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Dr. Manny: So we have sexual transmission through semen, we have mosquito transmission, have there been any other ways of acquiring Zika that you know of?

McCabe: Well certainly there's been one hospital worker, a lab worker who was exposed; there was this case in Utah, we don't understand it, but a close family caregiver to an elderly man who died of Zika had very high levels of the virus in his blood. We're not sure exactly how that was passed. We're concerned about blood transfusions, the blood supply in Puerto Rico is being checked to protect against getting it from a blood transfusion. [We're] concerned about solid organ tissues. like kidney transplants, liver transplants if the person has been infected. So it's basically exposure to blood or semen. And there is one case where it appears to have been transmitted from a woman to her male partner. But in general, it's more common for it to be transmitted from the male partner to a woman.

Dr. Manny: Tell me what kind of information is available through the March of Dimes when it comes to questions of Zika.

McCabe: Go to We've updated [the website] 30 times since January 20th when we put the first article up. So what I'm telling you is what we know today. It may be different tomorrow and if it is, we'll change it within a day. So stay on those websites. Be informed; protect yourself. Microcephaly is only the tip of the iceberg. They're seeing babies who have no signs of microcephaly, no birth defect but are then developing seizures and having problems with sucking on a bottle or the breast -- neurological problems.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.