What you need to know about the Zika virus if you are trying to get pregnant
What is the Zika virus?
The Zika virus causes a disease called Zika. It is not a new virus; however there has been a recent spike in the incidence of the virus in approximately 14 countries. Brazil has been having significant outbreaks since May 2015.
When Zika is contracted it causes an illness with mild symptoms that last for several days to a week. Only 1 in 5 people who get infected actually have symptoms. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The symptoms are mild and people are rarely sick enough to go to hospital and it is rare for people to die because of the Zika virus.
There is no vaccine to prevent the contraction of Zika and there is no treatment for Zika once it has been contracted. If Zika is contracted it should be managed similar to a common cold or flu with rest, hydration and fever reducing medications.
Once you have been infected with the Zika virus that person is protected from future infections.
There are three ways in which Zika can be transmitted.
- The Zika virus is spread primarily through mosquitos. Mosquitos become infected with the Zika virus when they bite a person who is currently infected with the virus. They pass on the virus when they bite another person.
- The virus can also be spread from pregnant mothers to their baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth.
- The Zika virus can also be spread through sexual contact. There are only a few reports of sexual transmission, all from symptomatic infected men to their female partners. It is unclear if men who do not get symptoms of the disease have virus in their semen and if they can spread the disease to their female partners. It is also unknown if infected women can transmit the virus to their male partners. It is believed that condoms will decrease the transmission of Zika during sexual contact.
Anyone who lives in or travels to an area with Zika virus is found is at risk to get the disease. You can check the CDC’s travel website to get a current list of areas with Zika, as it is constantly changing.
How do you prevent yourself from becoming infected with Zika?
- Do not travel to areas where the Zika virus is prevalent (see CDC website for list)
- If you have to travel to an area where the Zika virus is found then take protective measures by wearing clothes that cover your extremities, stay inside in buildings with windows or door screens, use insect repellants.
- Abstain from intercourse or use a condom if your sexual partner is suspected to have or has Zika virus.
Zika Virus and Birth Defects.
In women who contract the Zika virus during pregnancy there have been reports of a serious birth defect called Microcephaly, which is a condition where the baby’s head is smaller than normal. There has been an increase in the incidence of microcephaly in Brazil since the outbreaks began in 2015, however it is still unclear if the Zika virus is the cause of this birth defect.
There have been other reports of poor pregnancy outcomes in pregnant women who contract Zika; however the exact association is unclear and is evolving. There does not seem to be an increased risk for birth defects in future pregnancies. Our understanding of how and when the virus is transmitted in pregnancy is growing but still is limited.
If a man develops any symptoms of Zika and his partner is pregnant, the current recommendations are for the couple to abstain from sex or use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy.
Our information about this disease is constantly evolving, so it is important to have the most recent updates. The CDC website is the best source of up to date information on the Zika virus.
If you are concerned you have symptoms of the Zika virus you should speak to a healthcare provider, especially if you are pregnant. If you want more information about the Zika virus please check out the CDC website http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html.