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Science AMA Series: I’m Catherine Spong—OB/GYN, deputy director of an NIH institute, researcher, and mom. Let’s talk about Zika virus and its impact on child development. AMA!
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Hello reddit! I’m Cathy Spong, and I am deputy director of NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). At NICHD, we focus on the entire life process rather than a specific disease or body system. We support research on physical and intellectual developmental disabilities, rehabilitation, population health, fertility, pregnancy, and childhood conditions. Last year, I hosted an AMA on Zika and its effects on pregnancy. Today, I’d like to discuss Zika’s effects on child development, and how we are at the tip of the iceberg in terms of understanding how the virus affects development. Microcephaly is only one of the many severe complications of Zika exposure in the womb. Children born to Zika-infected mothers can face many other health problems, and what has been reported to date likely represents only the most severe cases. Because Zika is spread by Aedes mosquitoes and through sexual contact, people should pay attention, even if they do not live in a Zika-endemic area. To fully understand the impact on children, including the subtle effects, we need to conduct a full, long-term assessment of the exposed child, including monitoring for physical symptoms, as well as for signs of intellectual and developmental disabilities. Careful monitoring and evaluation of behavior, developmental stages, and achievement of milestones will improve our understanding of prenatal Zika exposure and help us identify potential medical treatments and other interventions, such as physical therapy. I’ve talked about Zika’s threat to child development in a Huffington Post blog. I urge researchers, especially those who do not study infectious diseases or pregnancy, to consider how their work can help. Collaboration across medical specialties will be vital. 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 its impact on child development. We will be closing this AMA thread, but if you have follow-up questions, please send us a reddit message, Facebook message, or tweet at us.