Zika Virus and Pregnancy: What you need to know


If you or a loved one is pregnant, chances are you have heard about the Zika virus disease.  With all the coverage out there, it can be pretty easy to get lost in the sea of information.  As of June 16, 2016, the CDC reports that 234 pregnant women have confirmed cases of Zika virus in continental USA.  That's a big number, considering these are travel-associated instances, mostly originating in South American nations.  

Click on this link to check out a map of what countries have active transmissions.

So here is a quick and condensed version about everything Zika in one place.  

What is it?
The disease is caused by the Zika virus which is carried by mosquitoes (specifically the Aedes species, which are already carriers of such viral diseases as yellow fever and West Nile fever).  When an infected mosquito bites a human, the virus is passed to the human.  Which is all fine and dandy, except if you're pregnant.

So what if I am pregnant?
If you are pregnant and get bit by an infected mosquito, you could be infected by the Zika virus.  And you could pass it to your fetus during pregnancy.  Or during delivery.  But that's all we know.  What are the implications of a baby born with the Zika virus infection? We do not know.  However, there seemed to be a very high correlation between infected pregnant women and their newborns who had microcepahaly, which lead the CDC to conclude that microcephaly was directly caused by the virus.

Microcephaly is a condition where the newborn's head is smaller in size than expected. This could mean that the baby's brain has not developed like it should, leading to other issues such as seizures, developmental delays, hearing loss and vision problems, to name just a few.  Microcephaly is a life long condition, and cases can range from mild to severe.  Mild cases could merely pose a cosmetic issue but severe cases could mean life long management of above mentioned developmental issues.

Credit:  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities

The unknowns
According to the CDC, exposure may or may not mean infection and if a pregnant woman is infected by the Zika virus, the unknowns continue.  How will the infection affect the pregnancy?  Will the fetus be infected as well?  If the fetus is infected, will it have birth defects?  At what stage in the pregnancy can it still be passed to the fetus? Unfortunately, these very real and valid questions have no definite answers.  It is important to note that an infected man can transmit the virus through sexual contact, whether or not he has symptoms associated with the virus.

And the symptoms include..
... fever, rash, joint pain, muscle pain, headaches and an eye infection called conjunctivitis.  These symptoms can last from a few days to a week.  The good news is that symptoms are usually mild and often do not require special medical treatment.  And we do know that once you've been infected by the virus, re-infection in the future is improbable.  Like any good patient, make sure you rest a lot, drink plenty of fluids and remain hydrated.

Goes without saying, but if you are pregnant, avoid traveling to areas with Zika. Prevention really is the best treatment in this case.  There really is no reason to put your future baby in a sticky situation such as this.  If travel is completely and totally unavoidable, do your best to protect yourself and your fetus.  Wear long sleeved outfits, use appropriate insect repellents and avoid standing water, which may serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes.  Use mosquito nets if available.  Also, try to avoid contact with anyone that has recently been in a Zika area.  

Pregnancy can already be a scary time for a lot of women, but if we have accurate information and are knowledgeable about the situation, we can really stop sweating the small stuff and focus on the important issues.

How has the Zika scare affected you?  Let us know with your comments!  And if you found this post helpful, sign up for our newsletter and please share with your friends.

In the meantime, take care and happy pregnancy!

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  • Anita Koppuzhayil
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