Infectious Disease experts address Zika virus concerns

The International Centre for Infectious Diseases in Winnipeg hosted an online knowledge forum over heightened fears around the Zika virus and the potential risk for pregnant women

More than 1000 medical professionals logged in to an online Zika knowledge forum held in Winnipeg

More than 1000 medical professions logged on to a knowledge forum about the Zika Virus with experts from the International centre for Infectious Diseases and the University of Manitoba. (CBC)

The International Centre for Infectious Diseases hosted an online forum Thursday in Winnipeg over heightened fears around the Zika virus.  The forum addressed issues around the potential risk for pregnant women and women looking to become pregnant after travelling to affected countries.

"What we do know is that there is a lot of concern that there's a virus in high numbers in mosquitoes and infecting lots of people in southern, central and Mexican parts of North America, and the Carribean," said ICID's medical director Joel Kettner.
Joel Kettner, medical director with the International Centre for Infectious Diseases, moderates a knowledge form about Zika virus. (CBC)

There is some evidence that there's a connection between Zika virus and microcephaly, a birth defect where a baby is born with a smaller head. Often that means a smaller brain and could result in developmental delays and other health problems.

But the four experts agree, in general, the risk to Canadians travelling to the areas is extremely low.

 "The virus is a very benign infection. It doesn't cause significant symptoms in most individuals. For most people it resolves within two and seven days with no absolutely no concerns later on," said Philippe Lagace-Wiens.

An assistant professor in medical microbiology at the University of Manitoba, Lagace-Wiens does support the World Health Organization's warning to pregnant women and those looking to conceive. The WHO has recommended these women postpone travel to affected countries.

"We don't know a lot about the risk of congenital, or infection of infants in pregnant women," said Lagace-Wiens. He added that is where research will be focused.
Dr. Philippe Lagace Wiens, Medical Microbiology assistant professor and Dr. Craig Burym, Section head for Maternal-Fetal Medicine with the University of Manitoba at Zika virus forum.

It's also recommended that women wanting to get pregnant, wait two months after travelling to the affected countries before attempting to conceive.

Craig Burym, a doctor with the University of Manitoba, performs fetal assessments through doctor referrals. He says he's hearing more concerns from obstetricians about patients who have travelled to countries with the Zika virus.

"Our moms are very nervous about this," said Burym. "Primarily, I believe our role is going to reassure the mothers that everything is going to be okay. I doubt that we're going to get any cases of Zika in our patients who have returned from these countries."

In 2014, the National Microbiology Laboratory based in Winnipeg confirmed one case of Zika virus in a Canadian. Since the heightened awareness over the virus, the lab has been performing  60 to 100 tests daily. So far only nine have come back positive for Zika.

"I really hope that everyone thinks carefully and critically about the information that's being shared and doesn't jump to conclusions without thoughtfulness," Kettner said.