Feb 16, 2016
Zika Virus and Pregnancy: Understanding Risks and Recommendations If you’ve flipped on the television, browsed the Internet or talked to your friends in the last month – you’ve probably heard about the Zika virus.
Zika is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. Most infected people have no symptoms. Some experience a fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes, but Zika virus symptoms are typically mild and disappear within a week.
Though new Zika virus cases have been reported in Texas, in travelers visiting or returning from areas where the virus is circulating, it’s not a new virus. It was first identified in 1947. But recent outbreaks in South and Central American countries, especially Brazil, have linked Zika infection in pregnancy to babies born with microcephaly – a disorder characterized by a smaller-than-normal head circumference, brain deformities and associated neurological defects.
This link has caused national and international governments and health organizations to issue warnings specific to pregnant women, and the Texas Medical Association and the Texas Association of Obstetrics and Gynecologists has issued an alert to obstetricians, gynecologists and family physicians to watch for patients with the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises pregnant women to postpone travel to many South and Central American countries, Mexico, the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean to avoid potential infection. There is currently no vaccination for Zika.
So, if you’re pregnant, what can you do to protect yourself?
- Follow CDC recommendations to postpone travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is occurring. An updated list of the countries affected can be found here.
- If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your doctor first and do your best to prevent mosquito bites by using insect repellent; wearing light-colored clothes that cover most of your body; using physical barriers like closed windows and doors, screens and mosquito nets; and staying away from standing water.
- If your partner travels to an affected area, avoid sex or use protection for the duration of your pregnancy. A few cases of sexual transmission have been reported.
- If you’re pregnant and have recently traveled to a Zika-affected area, talk to your doctor – especially if you developed any symptoms in the two weeks following your trip. Your doctor may want to perform a blood test and monitor your baby’s development through ultrasound.
- As the weather warms here in the United States, continue to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites.
“We’re fortunate right now to have very low mosquito activity,” says Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Health℠. “But, as we head toward springtime, if we have a lot of people infected by Zika either through travel or sexual transmission, mosquitos may bite them and then bite others. This would start a transmission cycle that would make it almost impossible to eliminate the virus.”
What if you became pregnant after returning from a Zika-affected area?
At this time, the CDC believes most people infected with Zika clear the virus from their bodies within one to two weeks. There is no evidence that a baby conceived after the virus has left a woman’s body would be at risk for fetal infection or birth defects. Based on these recommendations, if you became pregnant more than a few weeks after returning to the United States – you should not worry and should pursue regular prenatal care.
When will there be a vaccine?
“There are a number of vaccines being developed that may be ready in the future, but the challenge would be to look at their effectiveness in the most prone population – pregnant women,” explains Dr. Kahn. “There is always a concern about immunizing pregnant women with experimental vaccines, so I think we’re still many years from an approved vaccine.”