South Florida Hospital News
Wednesday November 20, 2019

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October 2016 - Volume 13 - Issue 4



University of Miami Launches Zika Global Network to Combat Virus

When the first cases of locally-transmitted Zika virus popped up in the Wynwood district north of Miami’s downtown in July, University of Miami scientists were already immersed in studying the virus on numerous fronts.

Research was ongoing for finding a vaccine to the virus. Other teams were working on quicker and less expensive testing to determine if someone has been infected.
At a recent forum on Zika held at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, UM President Julio Frenk announced the creation of the University of Miami Zika Global Network - a University-wide initiative focused on research, discovery, education and care.
“We take this threat very seriously,” said Frenk, welcoming partners, the public and media to the forum. “We are collaborating locally, nationally and internationally to deal with this global threat.”
UM’s Zika Global Network mirrors the comprehensive make-up of its academic and research structure, approaching the public health issue from a broad spectrum of disciplines, drawing experts from the front lines of research, infectious disease, obstetrics, pediatric care, mosquito control, and economic impact.
More than a year ago, David Watkins, Ph.D., vice chair for research in the Department of Pathology who researches diseases in Latin America where the infections were reaching epidemic proportions, first sounded the alarm about the potential consequences in South Florida.
As a result, UHealth - University of Miami Health System physicians were among the first counseling prospective parents and treating pregnant women, and UM scientists began working overtime to bring diagnostic and therapeutic responses from the laboratory to the clinic — some possibly by the end of this year.
Mario Stevenson, Ph.D., professor of medicine, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and director of the Institute of AIDS and Emerging Infectious Diseases, has developed a diagnostic blood test for Zika that costs a fraction of current tests, delivers results quickly, and can be performed on the spot in any hospital or outpatient clinic.
In UM’s clinics, where UHealth physicians are on the front lines in the fight against Zika, obstetricians and gynecologists have been caring for pregnant women who were infected with Zika both abroad and at home. Now they are expanding their services.
“We are beginning a wrap-around neonatal and pediatric care clinic for women who have been infected with Zika during their pregnancies to ensure that during pregnancy and after delivery mothers and infants receive the care that they need,” said Christine L. Curry, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology.
“New data keeps emerging,” she said. “As we learn more about Zika, we are finding that some infants may look normal at birth, but fail to meet developmental milestones in their first year.”
That’s where UHealth pediatricians have created a Zika Response Team to better understand the effects of Zika on infants. According to Ivan A. Gonzalez, M.D., assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and specialist in pediatric infectious diseases, “knowing an infant or child has been exposed to Zika could help physicians develop clinical protocols.”
Mosquito control and vector-borne illness bring in public health and human geography experts who have shared research now in the spotlight. Psychology experts warn parents to reassure children that adults have everything covered so negative thoughts don’t take over.
As UM experts heed direction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and work with the Miami-Dade Department of Health, they also engage in regular conversations with leaders of Jackson Memorial Hospital and the VA Medical Center.
Local and state officials worry about the effects to Miami-Dade County’s $36 billion tourism industry, but Arun Sharma, Ph.D., professor of marketing at the UM School of Business Administration, expects it to be minimal since the greatest risk is to pregnant women. Still, he admits, “If the negative coverage of Zika in Miami increases and/or if countries start providing travel advisories suggesting that their citizens not visit Miami, the drop in tourism may be steep.”
“It is everyone’s responsibility to prevent a generation of children growing up with birth defects from this virus,” said Paola N. Lichtenberger, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine and Director of the Tropical Disease Program. “This needs to be a community response. Learn about Zika, pay attention to what’s happening here and take action to protect our community.”

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