North Shore University Hospital announced Tuesday it is opening a pregnancy clinic at the Maternal Fetal Center for Women in Manhasset to address the threat of the Zika virus.
“When you have something like Zika that comes out of nowhere and there’s so much fear and demand for answers in the community, it’s better to concentrate the efforts in a coherent program,” Burton Rochelson, chief of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Northwell, said in a statement.
North Shore officials said the Pregnant Clinic has been opened for expectant mothers who recently traveled to the Caribbean, South America, Latin America and other locales linked to the Zika virus.
“It’s a needed service for both pregnant moms, who are understandably anxious, and for their physicians,” said Rochelson, who is also the director of obstetrics at North Shore University Hospital.
In countries affected by Zika, there has been a significant increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, a congenital birth defect marked by small head size and poor brain development.
Since fear of Zika took hold in the United States last month, officials at the hospital’s Center for Maternal Fetal Health said they have been receiving more than 10 phone calls a day from nervous pregnant mothers, inquiring about the risk to their fetus and testing for the virus.
According to North Shore, some cases of the mosquito-borne infection are mild with flu-like symptoms, such as body aches, fevers, rash and red eyes.
Rochelson said 80 percent of individuals infected with the Zika virus are asymptomatic.
Zika testing requires approval by the state Department of Health, a process which may be taxing for many busy OB/GYN practices, Rochelson said.
North Shore said starting March 9, Maternal Fetal Medicine consultations, including viral testing, will be offered at the hospital on Wednesdays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Prior to testing, pregnant women need to call 1-844-MFM-DOCS, option 1 to set up a Maternal-Fetal Medicine consultation.
At the hospital, the patient’s medical history will be taken, and the fetal risks of Zika virus will be discussed.
North Shore will then obtain approval from the state Department of Health for Zika virus testing.
The test involves two blood draws, one to check for viral particles in the mother’s blood and the other for antibodies to see if she was exposed to the virus.
Blood samples will be sent to the Department of Health’s Wadsworth Arbovirus Laboratory in Albany for processing.
Results for the first blood test take about 24 hours, but results on exposure can take up to two weeks.
An ultrasound will also be performed for women who test positive for the virus to check for calcium deposits in the fetal brain and liver, which has been linked to Zika infection.
When appropriate, arrangements will be made for serial ultrasounds to evaluate fetal head size for the unlikely development of microcephaly.
Rochelson said the hospital felt that it’d be able to meet the demand that way.