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Health Check: RI doctor offers new Zika guidelines for pregnant women

As the World Health Organization prepares to possibly declare the Zika virus an international health emergency, doctors at Women and Infants Hospital in Providence have been inundated with calls from pregnant women concerned about the virus.

As the World Health Organization prepares to possibly declare the Zika virus an international health emergency, doctors at Women and Infants Hospital in Providence have been inundated with calls from pregnant women concerned about the virus.

"People are afraid they can catch it from other people," said Dr. Brenna Hughes, chief of the Women's Infectious Disease Consultative Service at Women and Infants.

That appears not to be the case. Hughes said it's transferred between mosquitoes and humans. Most people will not display symptoms.

"Eighty percent of the time, it is an asymptomatic infection," said Hughes. "Most people don't know that they even have it and people who aren't pregnant, even if they become ill, it's sort of a mild flu-like illness."

The symptoms are generally mild and include fever, joint pain and perhaps a rash.

Hughes, who said she never even heard of Zika before last month, is now up to speed on the virus, which is quickly spreading in Latin America. There, thousands of babies have been born with microcephaly, or a small head.

"In pregnancy, we think that it may actually infect the fetus and affect the fetal brain, which is the cause of these very small heads, and unfortunately some pretty severe development disorders in these babies," Hughes said.

As part of the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Hughes helped the CDC come up with new guidelines for pregnant women who've traveled to endemic areas, especially since there aren't always symptoms.

"The recommendation is they actually have ultrasound about once a month to monitor for the development of the small head," said Hughes.

For more on the Zika virus and the new guidelines, click here and here.

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