Zika virus is scary for women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. A lot of information has been in the news about this mosquito-borne infection and how it affects pregnancies, and we thought it would be a good idea to revisit this topic to discuss what we do and don’t know.
So let’s go over the basics first. How does a pregnant woman get infected with Zika?
The most common way is from the bite of an infected mosquito. The mosquito that can carry the virus is not found in Idaho, but it is found in some southern areas of the United States as well as the countries having an outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps a list and issues travel advisories for countries experiencing an outbreak. A pregnant woman also can be infected if she engages in unprotected sexual activity with a man who is infected.
Prevention seems obvious, although maybe not easy. What are some things pregnant women should do?
Until public health officials know more, the CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women because of the possible link between Zika virus and birth defects. If pregnant women are in one of the outbreak areas, they should prevent mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, staying in places that have air conditioning or screens over the windows, using EPA-registered insect repellents, and getting rid of standing water if possible. They also may want to abstain from sex while they’re pregnant, or be sure to use a condom the right way every time. If you’re a pregnant woman who doesn’t live in an area experiencing an outbreak, then you should not travel to those areas that are.
Have there been any cases caused directly by mosquitoes in the United States?
Not yet. Around 260 cases associated with travel have been reported, but none that were acquired by bites of local mosquitoes in the U.S. Reported cases involved people who had traveled to one of the areas in the outbreak, or who had sex with a man who returned from travel to one of those areas.
What do we know about the sexual transmission of Zika?
The list is short: We know a man can spread the virus to his sex partners, and that it can be spread before, during and after men have symptoms, which typically last from several days to a week. In the cases of sexual transmission we know about, the men all had symptoms of infection. That’s not always the case – most people have no symptoms. We also know the virus lasts longer in semen than in blood. The CDC has a good list of what we do and don’t know about sexual transmission on its website, www.cdc.gov/zika. Until we know more, pregnant women with male sex partners who have lived in or traveled to an area with Zika virus should use condoms the right way, every time for all sexual activity or not have sex during the pregnancy.
Does a Zika virus infection affect a woman’s future pregnancies?
Based on what public health officials know now, Zika virus infection in a woman who is not pregnant would not pose a risk for birth defects in future pregnancies after the virus has cleared from her blood. And, from what we know about similar infections, a person who has been infected with Zika is likely to be protected from a future Zika infection.
We’re learning more every day, so be sure to check the links below for the latest guidelines, travel advisories and other information.