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Zika Virus and Pregnancy

Zika virus babies and birth defects

The Zika virus outbreak has caused concern for women who are pregnant or attempting to conceive, and their doctors. Some of those fears are based in facts and others are not.

This is what we know about the Zika Virus and the risks to pregnancy at the time of this blog post.

 

What is the Zika virus?

Zika is viral infection that was first seen in South America and now has begin to spread to other parts of the world. While it is generally considered a mild illness, there is a particular concern about its effects in pregnant women.

How is Zika transmitted?

The virus is typically transmitted by being bitten by infected mosquitos. There has been at least one case of transmission of Zika in the US through sexual intercourse, so it is still unclear how many different ways in which the virus may spread. As far as we know, mosquitos in the mainland US do not harbor the virus at this time.

How do I avoid exposure to Zika?

The best way is to avoid mosquito bites from infected insects. That means avoiding travel to affected areas. It also means covering up with long sleeves and full length pants and using pregnancy-safe insect repelants such as DEET to keep the mosquitos away.

What are the symptoms of a Zika infection?

The symptoms of Zika typically begin 2-7 days after exposure and then persist for another 2-7 days. The symptoms are similar to other viral infections and may include a low grade fever, a skin rash, conjunctivitis (pink eye), muscle or joint pain, and just feeling run down.

How can Zika affect my pregnancy?

Pregnancy is the main concern about the Zika virus. There have been a disproportionately  large number of women who lived in certain Zika-endemic areas who delivered babies affected by a birth defect called microcephaly. Microcephaly is a very serious birth defect in which a baby is born with an unusually small head. These babies frequently have underdeveloped brains and significant neurologic and development issues. It is not know at this time whether the Zika virus actually causes microcephaly, but researchers are concerned that it might.

Is there a blood test for Zika?

Yes. There is a blood test for the virus but it is not widely available, and you cannot get it at this time from places like Quest, LabCorp or Bioreference. Your specialist can help arrange testing if needed through the CDC.

What should I do if I think I might have been exposed to the Zika virus and might be pregnant?

Let your OBGYN or midwife know right away. They can help direct you to a subspecialist in Maternal-Fetal Medicine or infectious diseases and arrange for the appropriate testing.

Should I change my travel plans because of this?

It is a good idea to try and avoid any unnecessary travel to areas affected by the Zika virus if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant in the near future. This area includes large portions of Central and South America as well as Mexico and parts of the Carribean. The Centers for Disease Control has a list of affected area on its website here:

http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html

Here is map of the current areas affected by Zika from the US Centers for Disease Control:

This map from the CDC shows areas affected by Zika virus outbreak

Should I delay pregnancy if I have gone to an endemic area?

It is probably a good idea to avoid pregnancy until you have at least passed the incubation time (see above), though there is no consensus on how long you should wait to conceive. Keep in mind that since there has been a case thought to be sexually transmitted, that would apply to the male partner as well.

Where can I find out more information?

Our knowledge about the Zika outbreak is fluid and changes every day. You can get the latest information from: