The Zika Virus and PregnancyJun 14, 2016
Dr. Jessica Keller, D. O.
The Zika virus and pregnancy has been a hot topic recently. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, and subsequently cause certain birth defects. The likelihood that Zika will affect pregnancy, and at what stage it might cause harm to the fetus, is still unknown. While it is still unknown if a baby will develop birth defects from the infection, the Zika virus has been associated with microcephaly and head abnormalities in fetuses of women who have been infected with the virus.
The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne illness that causes fever, joint pain rash and red of eyes. It is believed that the first isolated case appeared in 1947 in a rhesus monkey. The first human case appeared in 1952 in Africa. To date, there have been no infected mosquitoes found in the United States, but there have been travel-associated cases.
Currently, outbreaks are occurring in many countries and territories. Refer to the CDC’s website for the most up-to-date list of countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html. Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to these areas, and those who do plan to travel to one of these areas should talk to their healthcare provider first. Women trying to become pregnant or who are thinking about becoming pregnant, should also consult with their healthcare provider before traveling to these areas. While traveling, it is very important to follow special precautions to avoid mosquito bites, including Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellent with DEET, cover exposed skin, stay in air-conditioned or screened areas, and treat clothing with permethrin. When used as directed, DEET and permethrin can safely be used during pregnancy, however, permethrin should not be used directly on the skin.
If you traveled to a country or territory with active Zika virus transmission while pregnant, and have some of the symptoms of the virus, you should contact your provider immediately. Your provider may want to test you if you have been in an area with active transmission of the virus. Although the virus is usually mild, with symptoms lasting up to a week, the CDC recommends waiting eight weeks to attempt conception after the last possible exposure.
In February, a non-pregnancy case of the virus was confirmed in Texas, involving a patient who had sexual intercourse with someone who was infected at the time. For pregnant women with male partners who have travelled to Zika outbreak areas, it is recommended to use condoms during intercourse, or abstain from sex during pregnancy.
Currently, there is no vaccine or medicine for Zika. The symptoms should be treated with common over-the-counter remedies, such as Tylenol. Prevention is key, and avoiding exposure is best.