If you watch the news you may have heard about Zika, the scary virus, transmitted by mosquitoes, which can cause severe birth defects to babies born to infected mothers. This poses a special concern for women who are or plan on becoming pregnant. There is SO MUCH conflicting and seemingly inaccurate information floating around message boards and Facebook.
It seems like Zika is either taking a larger than life presence as the facts get distorted and sensationalized, or being glossed over to the point that people don’t know the real risks. So I took some time to sit in on a call with the CDC on April 13, and attend an Insider’s Briefing on Zika from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, as well as sift through the many articles that are online right now to find what I consider to be the top 10 things to know about Zika, as it pertains to women who are or may plan to become pregnant.
1. The W.H.O. recently announced that they have reached scientific consensus that Zika causes microcephaly and other severe birth defects
Babies with microcephaly have an unusually small head, often accompanied by incomplete brain development. Read more on this here.
2. Zika is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito
Only female mosquitos bite, and only the Aedes species of mosquito can transmit the virus. The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the main carrier, and is most common in hotter, more tropical climates. The Aedes albopictus, aka Asian Tiger Mosquito, can also transmit the virus although it’s not as efficient at it, but is more prevalent throughout the US.
Green shows Estimated range of Aedes albopictus in the United States, 2016, Blue shows Estimated range of Aedes aegypti in the United States, 2016 – www.cdc.gov
3. Zika can be transmitted through sex
The virus can be spread from a male sexual partner to a woman through semen, and is contagious before, during and after symptoms of Zika are present. The virus can actually live in semen longer than it can in blood, and at this time it us unknown for how long that might be. Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant are urged to avoid contact with semen from men who have visited areas where Zika is transmitted. Pregnant women are being told to only engage in sex using a condom until after delivery, if their partner may have been exposed to Zika.
4. Zika is not thought to be transmitted through breastfeeding
At this point there have been no documented cases where a baby has gotten Zika through breastfeeding, and because of the known benefits of breastfeeding, mothers in infected areas are encouraged to continue breastfeeding.
5. There have been no cases in the US that are not travel-associated
Meaning that while there have been confirmed cases of Zika here, none of those people were bitten by a mosquito within the United States, but instead the infected person traveled to an area where Zika is spreading and contracted the virus there. Read more here.
With that being said, there is concern about how widespread the virus could become in southern states this summer.
6. Where is Zika currently active?
7. Health professionals are advising pregnant women to “avoid travel to an area with Zika”
8. If you live in an area that has Zika take steps to prevent mosquito bites whether you are pregnant or may become pregnant
- Stay indoors when possible
- Wear long pants and sleeves
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents
I looked this up in more detail and found that DEET is the most effective insect repellent even for pregnant women. I also asked my OB about using my favorite natural brands of repellent instead and she said that with all the nasty disease that mosquitoes spread, you are better off using insect repellent with DEET than being bitten by mosquitoes when pregnant.
9. Zika is believed to take 8 weeks to clear the blood
While experts are still learning more every day (and they don’t rule out that this finding may change as they learn more), their “careful estimate” is for women to wait eight weeks after traveling or being infected with the virus. After the eight weeks it is expected that the blood would be clear and that a pregnancy would not be at risk.
10. Symptoms of Zika include fever, rash, red eyes, headaches, muscle and joint pain
However one in five people show symptoms, so a blood test is recommended if you are pregnant and have visited an infected area.
There is SOO much more information out there, and if you are concerned or interested or both I encourage you to read more, and ultimately talk to your doctor. I found most of my information here, and here, in addition to the calls I attended. If you have any questions, comment below and I’ll help find the answer.