Trending News Today: Birth Defects Related to Zika Virus Skyrocket

Top news of the day from across the health care landscape.

California’s public health department terminated its contract with AJ Boggs & Co because of several material breaches and their failure to keep the AIDS Drug Assistance Program’s online enrollment portal working properly. The termination follows a report in January that found HIV-positive patients were unable to get necessary drugs and timely care, according to Kaiser Health News. The state-run program helps nearly 30,000 low-income patients with HIV and AIDS in California pay for medications, insurance premiums, and medical care. Public health officials said they plan to determine eligibility and enroll patients directly, rather than contract with a new company. Although it is unclear how long the state will manage the services in-house, the department said in a statement that it was exploring all long-term options.

Although melanoma cancer survivors are more likely to protect themselves from sun exposure than those without a history of skin cancer, there is still a significant amount of survivors who reported getting sunburn in the past year, reported NPR. Included in the study were 724 cancer survivors diagnosed with melanoma between July 2004 and December 2007. The investigators also surveyed 660 individuals without a history of melanoma who were similar in age and gender to the cancer survivors, according to NPR. The results showed that among survivors, only 20% reported at least 1 sunburn within the past year compared with nearly 37% of individuals without a history of melanoma. Furthermore, 62% of survivors said they often or always wear sunscreen outside in the summer, compared with 39% of the control group. Study co-author Rachel Vogel said the findings can be looked at through a glass half-full lens. “These survivors are almost 10 years out, and the fact that they’re doing better [than the control group] at all is surprising,” Vogel said. However, she indicated that there is still room for improvement, and it is an area she plans to focus on in future research.

Birth defects among American mothers with the Zika virus have increased 20-fold compared with mothers who gave birth 2 years before the epidemic, according to The New York Times. Investigators examined several hundred pregnant women in the CDC’s Zika Pregnancy Registry after lab tests concluded they probably had the virus. The study authors compared their birth outcomes to those found in historic registries of birth defects kept in Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Georgia, the NY Times reported. The results of the study showed that in 2013 and 2014, the typical rate of severe birth defects—–including microcephaly, brain abnormalities, eye defects, or central nervous system problems––in those states was approximately 3 of every 1000 live births. Contrastingly, among the 442 women in the pregnancy registry, 26 infants and fetuses had similar defects, equating to a rate of 60 of every 1000 pregnancy outcomes, including live births, miscarriages, and abortions. Study author Margaret A. Honein, chief of the CDC’s birth defects branch, said comparing a rate based on live births with a rate based on a CDC tally of all pregnancy outcomes is not a perfect comparison, “but the difference between 3 times per thousand and 60 times per thousand does give you the magnitude of the increase.”