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Science AMA Series: I’m Catherine Spong—OB/GYN, acting director of an NIH institute, researcher, and mom of 4. Let’s talk about Zika virus and why we need to study its long-term effects on pregnancy & children infected in the womb. AMA!
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Hello reddit! I’m Cathy Spong, and I oversee NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which supports research on fetal, infant and child development; maternal, child and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. We know that Zika virus causes microcephaly and other serious birth defects, and is linked to pregnancy problems, including miscarriage and stillbirth. While our attention is rightly focused on vaccine development, mosquito control, and other measures to prevent the spread of Zika, it is also important to acknowledge that people affected by Zika today—parents, families, caregivers, and health care professionals—may be contending with unknown health outcomes for many years to come. We in the public health community need to identify optimal approaches to treat and care for children who have been exposed to Zika virus in the womb. We also need to be able to tell a woman and tell a family, the risks Zika virus poses throughout pregnancy, and research will help us understand these risks. Earlier this summer, NIH launched the multi-country Zika in Infants and Pregnancy (ZIP) study to evaluate the health risks that Zika virus infection poses to pregnant women and their developing fetuses and infants. Researchers aim to enroll 10,000 pregnant women in their first trimester and follow them throughout their pregnancies. After birth, the infants will be followed for at least one year. We anticipate that studies like ZIP will provide important information on the link between Zika infection and pregnancy complications and inform strategies to help safeguard the health of mothers and their newborns. I emphasized the need for this type of research in a recent Huffington Post blog, and NIH is hosting an open workshop on September 22-23, 2016, to find the best approaches to treat and care for children exposed to Zika in the womb. I will be answering questions starting at 2 p.m. ET (11 a.m. PT). Ask Me Anything! Edit: Hi, everyone! That wraps our chat up for today. Thank you for your questions – this was a great opportunity to discuss Zika virus and the need to study its long-term effects on pregnancy and children. Don’t forget, we’re hosting our scientific workshop on Zika on September 22 & 23. You can register to attend here. We will be closing this AMA thread, but if you have follow-up questions, please send us a Facebook message or tweet at us.