Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers Discuss Potential Threats of Zika VirusFebruary 17, 2016
The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) recently declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency, a rare move that signals the seriousness of the illness and its potential impact on unborn babies. The virus, which has been inactive for many years, was detected in Brazil this past May and has since spread to more than 20 countries in Latin America. The W.H.O. expects Zika to affect as many as four million people worldwide by the end of the year.
Zika is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes, but there is also evidence that the virus may be spread through infected blood or sexual contact. Adults who have contracted Zika typically display mild symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (pink eye). Symptoms generally last from a few days to a week and rarely become severe enough to warrant hospitalization.
The primary concern over Zika is its suspected links to microcephaly in babies born to mothers who were infected with the virus while pregnant. Microcephaly is a serious birth defect that causes abnormally small heads in infants. Microcephaly can occur because a baby’s brain does not develop properly during pregnancy or has stopped growing after birth, resulting in a smaller head size. Complications caused by microcephaly can range from mild to severe and may include:
- Developmental delays
- Problems with speech
- Problems with motor skills, such as sitting, standing, or walking
- Learning or intellectual disabilities
- Hearing loss
- Vision problems
Zika has also been associated with higher rates of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), though health experts have not yet confirmed the link. Guillian-Barre syndrome is a rare condition that attacks the central nervous system, causing severe muscle weakness and in some cases, paralysis. Symptoms can last a few weeks or several months. While most people with GBS make a fully recovery, others may suffer severe nerve damage that can lead to permanent disability. As many as one in twenty cases of GBS result in death.
Doctors have a duty to communicate relevant information to their patients about the risks of certain diseases. This includes warning women who are pregnant or may become pregnant to avoid traveling to areas where the Zika virus is prevalent. While there is currently no reliable test for Zika, patients who may have been exposed should be regularly monitored for signs and symptoms of the virus. Women who are pregnant or have recently given birth should tell their doctor if they have travelled to areas with Zika. In some cases, microcephaly can be diagnosed before the baby is born through an ultrasound. After the baby is born, doctors should wait 24 hours to measure the distance around the baby’s head. If microcephaly is suspected, the doctor can order special tests such as a CT scan or MRI to help confirm a diagnosis.
Additionally, hospitals and other healthcare facilities have a responsibility to protect their patients and employees from the threat of blood borne illness such as Zika. Hospitals that fail to adequately notify, prepare, train or equip staff to deal with a Zika outbreak may be held responsible if a patient or employee becomes infected.
Maryland Birth Injury Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Fight for Those Harmed by Doctor or Hospital Negligence
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