Zika is on the radar of pregnant moms and the physicians that care for them as the number of cases continues to increase across the United States. On October 5, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 3,818 cases of Zika infection, of which 837 were among pregnant women. On September 28, the government finally approved $1.1 billion in federal funds to combat the Zika virus threat, a reflection of the concern over the virus spreading further. According to Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, the funding will also allow the U.S. government to fund long-term studies on the effects of the virus on exposed babies after they are born.
Here’s what we know about Zika
Zika is a virus spread through mosquito bites and sexual contact. For males and non-pregnant females, the virus poses only a small risk. Per the CDC, out of every five people with the virus, one will develop flu-like symptoms, which are usually mild.
For pregnant females, it is much more serious because the Zika virus can be passed from the mother to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects including micro-encephalopathy, a condition in which infants are born with smaller than average brains. It can lead to developmental delays and vision and hearing complications and possibly be fatal.
Zika and Cord Blood Banking
On August 26, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Cord Blood Association issued guidelines
to help protect cord blood products from Zika virus transmission. FDA regulations apply to anyone that collects, processes, stores or distributes blood components; these regulations apply to both family and private cord banks. The FDA recommended that all blood donations be screened for the virus. Per the FDA, a birth mother will be considered ineligible to donate umbilical cord blood if she has any of the following risk factors:
- Medical diagnosis of Zika infection at any point during that pregnancy;
- Residence in, or travel to, an area identified by the CDC with active Zika transmission at any point during that pregnancy;
- Sex at any point during that pregnancy with a male who is known to have a medical diagnosis of Zika in the past six months or resides in or has traveled to an area with active Zika transmission within the past six months; or
- If a woman is not yet expecting, the CDC advises couples trying to conceive to wait at least six months if the man has been potentially exposed to Zika (Previously, the CDC advised couples to wait at least eight weeks.) The Zika virus is sexually transferable for six months after symptom onset in a man.
Can cord blood still be stored?
If a birth mother is identified as a risk, her newborn’s cord blood stem cells should still be stored and available for her family’s future health.
The regulations account for the fact that these stem cells are incredibly rare, and the risk of not getting a stem cell transplant when one is needed is worse than the potential consequences of contracting a communicable disease.
What are we doing with regard to Zika?
Cryo-Cell International takes extensive precautions to ensure safe storage of all units. All units are processed separately and in a closed system, with no chance of cross-contamination. Our technicians are fully gowned with only their eyes exposed to the environment. Processing occurs in an ISO class seven cleanroom and under a biosafety cabinet to ensure the area is contaminant-free. The products are stored in a cryo-bag, which is placed in an overwrap, which is then placed in a metal cassette.
Cryo-Cell International has also updated its health history questionnaire and client information form to identify donations with a Zika risk.
All units cryo-preserved at Cryo-Cell International are in no way at risk for Zika contamination.
Cryo-Cell International also collects maternal blood. This is done in order to test for certain infectious diseases as mandated by federal regulations. To meet the highest quality standards, Cryo-Cell collects extra tubes of blood in order to store maternal blood for potential future use. In the event that new testing requirements are identified that were not available at the time of cord blood collection, Cryo-Cell will be able to use these samples for the additional testing. Cryo-Cell is the only private cord blood bank that provides this storage of extra tubes.
What should expecting mothers do?
Expecting mothers can take certain precautions with regard to Zika prevention. They should not travel to any location where the Zika virus is active. If they currently reside in an area where Zika transmission is present, they should cover up with pants and long-sleeves. There are also EPA-approved insect repellents that pregnant moms can use. Pregnant women who return from an area with the virus should get tested especially if they have any flu-like symptoms.
The CDC reports up-to-date guidance for people living in or traveling to South Florida and has special travel notices for multiple countries and three U.S. territories. The World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending that women who are pregnant in any trimester should talk to their physicians and consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is active. For the most update information about Zika and the risks it poses during pregnancy, refer to the CDC webpage specific for pregnancy, www.cdc.gov/zika/pregnancy/index.html