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Circling the Dome

Putting the Bite on Zika

red mosquito illustration

As the number of patients with Zika virus grows worldwide, Johns Hopkins Medicine stepped into the breach in late summer, announcing in August the launch of the new Johns Hopkins Zika Center, dedicated to caring for pregnant women and newborn babies, but also men and women of all ages with the mosquito-borne and sexually transmitted virus.

The center will focus not only on diagnosis and treatment of infected individuals but also on the assessment of long-term effects, as well as new approaches to prevention and treatment of Zika virus infection. It is composed of providers and staff members from adult and pediatric departments and divisions within Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Medical experts from Brazil, a country greatly affected by Zika virus, are also members of the center.

“Patients will be able to see physicians and staff members from various areas of expertise within our institution, including our school of public health. This breadth gives us the ability to diagnose, treat and help prevent further proliferation of disease,” says William May, associate professor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, which led development of the center in collaboration with experts across the institution.

Zika virus is known to cause microcephaly, a birth defect that affects the brain but is also reported to cause eye abnormalities in more than half of babies infected with the illness, according to a recent study in Brazil. Through its leading role in the center, the Wilmer Eye Institute and its faculty members will be able to diagnose and, in many cases, treat eye diseases associated with Zika virus, including cataracts and other vision issues, with state-of-the-art, specialized technology.

The Zika center team will also be involved in research to learn more about the virus, for which many unknowns still exist. “Our No. 1 priority will be focused on our patients, but our hope is that our work will also lead to many new developments in the effort to fight this potentially devastating disease,” May says.

Adults and children worldwide can be referred to the center by outside physicians or through several Johns Hopkins departments and divisions, including emergency medicine and maternal-fetal medicine. Patients can also call the Wilmer Eye Institute to schedule an appointment. A case manager will work with patients to develop a care plan and identify specialists with whom the patient should follow up.

“When a patient, particularly a pregnant woman, contracts Zika virus, it can be a tremendously alarming experience,” says Jeanne Sheffield, director of maternal-fetal medicine for The Johns Hopkins Hospital. “Our team will coordinate our efforts to determine patients’ needs and provide the best care possible.”

Watch a video: Jeanne Sheffield, director of maternal-fetal medicine, shares insights on Zika and the potential effects on pregnant women.