AUG 25, 2016 03:03 PM PDT

Hopkins Opens First Multidisciplinary Center Focused on Zika

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
It seems that Zika cases are increasing daily. But amid this public health crisis, researchers are discovering new insight into the disease almost weekly. Now the Johns Hopkins Hospital is responding to this crisis by opening the first ever multidisciplinary Zika center. The goal is to have a central place where patients can get comprehensive care, while also giving researchers the best access and resources to develop therapies, faster.

Zika was a relatively an unknown name in the Americas until around 2015 when the outbreak in Brazil caught the world’s attention. Now it’s part of the common household news, especially for some residents in Florida where cases of locally transmitted viruses were confirmed.

The Zika virus is known to cause microcephaly, a birth defect that affects the brain. As such, pregnant women are the highest at-risk group. Compounding the problem is that Zika was found to be sexually transmitted. One of the latest report about Zika shows that this virus can also cause eye abnormalities in more than half of babies with the illness.

As Zika cases continue to grow worldwide and within the United States, many organizations are ramping up efforts to contain this disease. For example, Florida, the first state to have confirmed local transmission, is strengthening their insecticide tactics to curb the spread of Zika-infected mosquitos to other areas. Meanwhile, the National Institute of Health recently launched the first clinical trial of a Zika vaccine.

As for Hopkins, they hope to tackle both patient care and research simultaneously. Because of the link of Zika to eye abnormalities, Hopkins’ Zika center will be part of the Wilmer Eye Institute. In addition, the center will also collaborate with experts in epidemiology, infectious disease, maternal-fetal medicine, ophthalmology, and pediatrics.

"Patients will no longer be required to travel to multiple centers for care relating to the Zika virus," said Dr. William May, associate professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute. "Physicians and staff members in various departments at Johns Hopkins will be available to provide comprehensive care to patients within one institution."
 

"It's an ideal set-up for pregnant women exposed to Zika," said Dr. Jeanne S. Sheffield, director of the Hopkins' Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine. "We have people who can do initial evaluations, people in pediatrics, ophthalmologists and others who can consult and follow-up with kids. This set-up allows us to communicate about anyone who comes in and tests positive."

In the US, over 2,200 cases of Zika have been diagnosed. Of this, 529 are pregnant women. It is not yet known how many babies have been born with microcephaly, as not all babies born to Zika-infected mothers are affected. A centralized location could allow scientists to collect extensive and valuable data on Zika, identify trends, and rapidly discover new treatment options.
 
Additional source: Baltimore Sun
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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