You have probably heard of the Zika virus by now. For pregnant women, it is especially terrifying. The information is changing quickly, and you are NOT likely to contract the Zika virus in the United States right now. However, the type of mosquitoes that transmit the virus, (Aedes mosquitoes) ARE found in warmer climates of the U.S. It’s expected that 4 million people will contract the Zika virus in 2016 in the Americas.
If it makes it to the United States, the outbreaks are more likely in tropical zones – southern regions in the U.S. – and the U.S. will not likely see an outbreak until the warmer months when mosquitoes are more active. While your odds are low of contracting the virus, (unless you travel to one of the countries listed in the travel advisory,) it’s still important to know how to protect yourself and your unborn baby.
The Zika virus is a mild disease in most cases and rarely results in severe illness or death, but it can be very dangerous for pregnant women’s babies. This is because when a pregnant mother is infected, the fetus can be infected, causing the rare birth defect Microcephaly. This is a neurological condition causing babies to be born with small heads and sometimes small brains. The condition can also cause other life threatening developmental issues and death. If a mother is infected in the first trimester, the baby has the highest risk of extreme issues. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is still studying the virus and trying to understand all outcomes that may increase risk to the fetus and any outcomes associated with infection during pregnancy.
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Symptoms of Zika Virus
Most commonly the symptoms include fever, rash, headaches, red eyes, muscle and joint pain, and pain behind the eyes. BUT, 4 out of 5 people infected will not show symptoms. Zika is not contagious, and is mostly spread through mosquito bites.
The Zika Virus CAN be spread through sexual intercourse
According to experts, you can contract Zika through sex, so if your significant other has recently traveled to one of the places on the travel warning, use protection throughout the duration of the pregnancy.
Is there a treatment or test?
There is no treatment for the Zika virus, however, if you are pregnant and you or your partner have traveled to an affected country, ask your doctor to administer a blood test to detect the virus. If it’s positive or inconclusive, an amniocentesis may be done to check the baby for infection. Additional ultrasounds will also be administered to check for signs of microcephaly throughout the pregnancy.
For more info on testing, see the CDC flow chart. (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6505e2er.htm)
Can it be prevented?
There is no vaccine for the Zika virus. The best thing you can do is protect yourself from being bitten by mosquitos. This includes wearing long pants and sleeves, staying indoors during peak mosquito times, and using mosquito repellant (which is safe and recommended during pregnancy), and not traveling to countries on the travel advisory.
The following list are countries for which the CDC has issued a Zika-related travel warnings due to cases of infection:
- American Samoa
- Cape Verde
- Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, U.S. territory
- Costa Rica
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- French Guiana
- Saint Martin
- S. Virgin Islands