A death in her family brought Andrea Osbourne to Jamaica for the funeral in early February. That island nation – along with other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America – are hot zones for the Zika virus.
While most cases of the mosquito-borne infection are mild with flu-like symptoms, such as body aches, fevers, rash, and red eyes, the virus can cause birth defects in pregnant women.
“Actually, the day I was leaving I took a home pregnancy test and it came out negative,” explained Andrea, a 42-year-old mother of two from Freeport. “But just the way I was feeling, I knew the test was wrong and that it was probably too early to tell.”
She was right. A second home pregnancy test done once she returned came back positive.
Andrea’s pregnancy was already high-risk due to her age and a history of stroke, venous thrombosis, and diabetes.
But, because of where she had travelled, doctors at North Shore University Hospital told Andrea she needed to undergo special bloodwork to see if she had been exposed to the Zika virus.
In countries affected by Zika, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, a congenital birth defect marked by small head size and poor brain development.
While Andrea was in Jamaica, news coverage of the virus and its effect on pregnancies eclipsed that of the nation’s general election.
“The Zika virus was the main focus of TV news down there. I saw all these babies with small heads,” said Andrea, now 8-weeks pregnant. “Once I realized I was in that situation I became very nervous.”
Andrea’s blood samples were sent to the state Health Department’s lab in Albany for processing. Several days later, she was elated to find out the test was negative for the virus.
Had her test come back positive for the virus, an ultrasound would have been performed to check for calcium deposits in the fetal brain and liver, which has been linked to microcephaly.
Her fears allayed, Andrea is looking forward to delivering a healthy baby in mid-October.
In response to mounting concerns by pregnant women who have travelled to Zika hot zones, North Shore University Hospital recently opened a testing clinic for the virus.