Doctor's Perspective Zika virus and birth defects
By Dr. Anthony Policastro
Medical issues tend to make for big news. The latest big news issue is the Zika virus. The viral infection itself is nothing more than a mild flu-like illness. However, there are now reports of children being born in Brazil with small heads or microcephaly. The Zika virus is being blamed for that.
Right now the reason for this is coincidental. The virus is widespread in Brazil and there have been a number of babies born with microcephaly so the two must be related.
That may indeed be the case. However, it may also not be. The best place to start with this kind of discussion is to look at statistics. Microcephaly is a rare condition. However, it does occur with a specific frequency. The usual incidence of congenital microcephaly is about two cases for every 20,000 births. In Brazil the historical rate before last year was low at one case for every 20,000 births. The rise in Brazil has been significant.
It was recorded at about 40 cases for every 20,000 births. That is 40 times what we normally see in Brazil. It is 20 times what we normally see in the rest of the world. However, it still represents relatively few cases per 20,000 births. To put it another way, 99.8 percent of births are still normal and 0.2 percent of births represent children with microcephaly.
The first thing this means is a pregnant woman who becomes infected with the Zika virus is not condemned to have a child with microcephaly. It is still a rare occurrence.
The second thing to remember is that right now the association between the Zika virus and microcephaly is still coincidental. We do not yet have any proof of the relationship.
There have been two deaths in infants with microcephaly that showed Zika virus in their brain. Those are two infants out of the 3,000 children with microcephaly. Most of the infants with microcephaly survive which means we have to rely on lab tests for confirmation. A third factor is related to medical care. In the United States we measure an infant's head size frequently. We do it at birth, at newborn discharge and at every well child check-up. In Brazil it was not a standard part of infant care until the reports came out about the virus. As a result, they started measuring more head sizes. That in and of itself would increase the rate of microcephaly because it is now being identified more frequently. That may be the reason that Brazil's rate was lower than the rest of the world in the first place. The bottom line is that there may be a link between the Zika virus and microcephaly. If that is the case there is still a less than one percent chance that a pregnancy will result in congenital microcephaly.
We will learn a lot more about this in the coming months. If it turns out that microcephaly is not due to the Zika virus, I wonder if it will still be big news?
Alzheimer's support groups
The Alzheimer's Association Delaware Valley Chapter announces that new support groups for the caregivers and families of those suffering from Alzheimer's and related disorders will begin in Sussex County in March. All groups are free and open to the public. A group will begin meeting at Laurel Centenary Methodist Church, 200 W. Market St., Laurel, at 2:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month. The first meeting is March 1.
A group meeting is also held in Seaford at the Lofland Park Center, Genesis on the second Tuesday of each month at 1:30 p.m.
The Delaware Valley Chapter offers a 24-hour Helpline at 800-272-3900. For more information, contact Jamie Magee at 854-9788.
Walk for Autism is April 16
The 10th Anniversary celebration of the Walk for Autism will begin on Saturday, April 16, at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes. The Wilmington leg of the statewide event takes place Saturday, April 23 at Fox Point State Park.
Walk for Autism organizers hope to attract 800 walkers in Lewes who will walk to the Cape Henlopen State Park parade field to form the world's largest human puzzle piece for entry into The Guinness Book of World Records. The puzzle piece serves as a symbol for autism. The funds raised at the Walk for Autism support Autism Delaware's statewide programs and services, which address the range of services that people on the spectrum need to live full lives as members of their communities.
'The Lewes walk seeks to promote and highlight services in Kent and Sussex counties,
such as family support, adult employment and community resources, advocacy at both the state and local levels, and awareness,'said Autism Delaware executive director Teresa Avery. To meet the growing need in southern Delaware and around the state, we need to continue to grow. The goal for our tenth anniversary is $220,000.
The Walk for Autism will include a fun zone where hands-on crafts are offered to children. Next door to the fun zone, the newest and latest in products and services especially for individuals and families affected by autism will be on display, and a well-maintained picnic area will be available for walk participants to enjoy their lunches from home or their purchases from food trucks open for business in the park.
For more information, visit autismdelaware.org.
Hospice support group
Delaware Hospice offers the Monthly Milford Group - Healing After the Loss of a Loved One on the third Wednesday of each month from 1-2:30 p.m. at the Delaware Hospice Center. This monthly support group provides an opportunity to share your loss with others who are going through similar circumstances and to learn ways to cope with your grief. To register or for information about other Delaware Hospice support groups, contact Sondra Satterfield at 302-678-4448 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lymphedema Support Group
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital will host a lymphedema support group on Thursday, Feb. 18 from 1:30-3 p.m., at the Seaford Library and Cultural Center. February's topic is vascular.
This free support group is open to anyone affected by lymphedema including patients, caregivers, and relatives. Meetings consist of a lecture by health care professionals and medical equipment providers followed by refreshments and an open question and answer session or discussion among participants.
Registration is required. For more information and to register, contact Robert Donati at 629-6224 or email@example.com.
Parkinson's Support Group
Nanticoke Health Services, in conjunction with CHEER and Care DE and The Methodist Manor House, will hold a Parkinson's education and support group on Thursday, Feb. 18 from 9:30-11 a.m. at the Methodist Manor House in Seaford.
Participating in education/support groups is essential for coping with an illness such as PD or other disorders that impair bodily movement. This free support group is helpful for the individual diagnosed with PD, caregivers, friends and family.
Group members welcome guest speakers on a variety of subjects related to PD and provide support to each other through other small group discussions.
For more information, contact Tara Trout at 629-6611, ext. 3838.
Stroke Support Group
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital will host a free stroke support group on Tuesday, Feb. 16 from 1:30-3:30 p.m., at the Seaford Library & Cultural Center.
The two-hour support group meetings consists of guest speakers and breakaway sessions in which caregivers and stroke survivors meet in groups to discuss concerns, providing support and networking. Refreshments will be provided.
This support group is designed for individuals who have survived a stroke as well as their families, friends, and caregivers.
Pre-registration is not required. For more information, call 629-6224.
Free Alzheimer's program
The Alzheimer's Association Delaware Valley Chapter and Laurel Centenary Methodist Church will present a series of free programs to the public.
The following programs will be offered at the church at 6:30 p.m. on the following dates:
Tuesday, Feb. 16 - Effective Communication
Tuesday, Feb. 23 - Understanding Dementia Related Behaviors
To register, call 800-272-3900 prior to the date of the presentation.