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Will Zika Spread To Arizona? Valley Moms-To- Be, OBGYNs Worry About Virus

Published: Tuesday, September 13, 2016 - 3:43pm
Updated: Tuesday, September 13, 2016 - 3:58pm
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(Photo by Lauren Gilger- KJZZ)
Megan Malone stopped traveling for work and started working out of her home office when mosquitoes infested her co-working space.

Megan Malone used to travel a lot for her job until she found out she was pregnant last year.

“Since that was such a big part of my job and suddenly I was pregnant, I went on like full Zika mode,” she said. “Trying to figure out everywhere I could and couldn’t go, and just trying to consume every news article that I could about it, because it was so new and kind of scary.”

Now, she is nine months along; her baby is due in just a few days, and she is almost out of the woods.

She’s spent a lot of her first pregnancy worried about Zika, the mosquito-born, sexually-transmitted virus that has spread throughout much of South America and recently hit the U.S., in Miami.

“It started out so contained and then it started going places that I was naturally going,” she said.

A lot is still unknown about the disease, but it can seriously affect pregnant women and their unborn children, causing debilitating birth defects and developmental problems.

To Malone, it wasn’t worth the risk.

“I didn’t want any type of risk whatsoever” she said.

So, she stopped traveling for work and started working out of her home office when mosquitoes infested her co-working space. And, when her husband was supposed to go to a convention in Florida for work, she said he cancelled his plans.

“It just, at the end of the day, wasn’t worth it to us,” she said.

Arizona focuses on surveillance

According to her OB-GYN, Dr. Kelly Helms, the questions from her patients changed when the Zika virus appeared in Miami, Florida.

“Initially we started getting questions about … can we do our honeymoon in the Caribbean? Or, we have a wedding in Mexico, can we go to that?” she said. “So, we tell them, I mean, it’s not advised. It’s not advised to travel, especially to Miami right now, with so many cases.”

She said she’s been writing a lot of letters to airlines lately to get her patients’ refunds on their tickets to

Zika affected areas.

“And patients aren’t happy about this, but really, I counsel them that this isn’t – it’s not worth a pregnancy,” Helms said.

There have been 19 confirmed cases of Zika to date in Maricopa County and about 30 across the state, according to the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. All of them have been travel-related.

But, Helms said, that’s not stopping pregnant women from worrying.

“Patients are getting more and more nervous about it being in Arizona,” she said.

And, it got especially scary for Malone when it was discovered that the virus can be sexually transmitted.

“Even if there were a small amount of cases in Arizona, if that person then got bit by a mosquito or passed it along, suddenly it changes from ‘people traveling’ to ‘it’s here,’” she said.

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for Disease Control at Maricopa County Public Health, said once a community sees local spread, the response changes dramatically.

But, while the type of mosquito that carries Zika is in Arizona, according to Sunenshine, they have not seen local spread of the disease here.

“I believe that one of two things will happen,” Sunenshine said. “I think it’s possible that the United States can put enough resources to assist Florida and it’s possible that we can keep the disease from spreading outside of Florida.”

But, if it does spread, “It is possible that it will spread all the way across the country,” she said.

For now, the county is focused on surveillance, making sure that one of those travel-related cases doesn’t spread the disease here. And, Sunenshine said that women who are pregnant in Arizona now, and who haven’t traveled to Zika affected areas, don’t need to worry.

“This is the time to be pregnant in Maricopa County because, to the best of our knowledge, it is not here and we are looking really hard for it,” she said.

 Advice changes as Zika spreads
To Dr. Helms, it seems like there’s a new advisory about Zika just about every day.

“So what I tell a patient last week could be different next month,” she said.

And that makes it difficult to give her patients the best advice.

“It’s scary because I don’t want any of my patients to have to face this or be diagnosed with this,” she said, “but I also don’t want to tell patients to live in fear.”

Malone said she doesn’t think there’s enough national panic about the spread of Zika, but that’s not the case for her and other pregnant women she knows.

“We’ve been kind of terrified by it,” she said.

And, as she looks toward motherhood, she said she feels like it’s her duty to make sure she knows what’s going on with Zika.

She said, there’s a lot of pressure that goes into being a new mother already and, well, it’s in a mosquito.

“The fact that it could be transmitted in such an insignificant little creature and that’s it’s hard to prevent,” she said. “To me, that’s the scariest part of it.”

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