Washington (WUSA9) -- Both her patient and her husband had been traveling in Central America and came back to the Washington area not feeling well. Soon it was clear, they had been infected with the Zika virus thanks to bites from the dreaded Aedes Aegypti mosquito sometime in November 2015.
Doctor Rita Driggers was involved because there was a complication. The patient was pregnant and Driggers is the Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington D.C.
“It’s in Mexico. It’s in Cuba. It’s on our doorstep,” Driggers said about the Zika virus.
An early ultrasound that looked normal seemed to be good news. However at a follow-up appointment at Sibley, Driggers and her team found serious complications developing. An MRI confirmed the bad news. The developing fetal brain was clearly not developing normally.
The expectant mother was approaching her 20th week of pregnancy and there was a difficult decision to be made.
“We felt confident telling her the neurological outcome would not be normal for this baby,” Driggers said.
Her patient thought about it for two weeks and decided to end the pregnancy.
“What they wanted more than anything was for others to learn from their misfortune,” Driggers said. “She underwent induction of labor which allowed us to perform further evaluations and studies…”
The result of the studies on the delivered fetus was an important report published in March in the New England Journal of Medicine documenting the presence of Zika virus in the unborn brain. The study was the first in the U.S. that almost certainly confirms what until then was only suspected: that Zika can cause severe brain abnormalities in unborn children.
“It’s a scary time to be thinking about pregnancy,” Driggers said.
So far, all of the 472 confirmed cases of Zika infection reported in the US came from people who were traveling somewhere else. Though the Aedes Aegypti mosquito that spreads Zika is present in at least 50 U.S. metropolitan areas, including Washington D.C.
Driggers fears it is only a matter of time before locally acquired infections begin to appear in the United States.
As word spreads, she is busy.
“Everyday I’m seeing pregnant patients now who have been traveling and are really worried,” Driggers said.