Zika Virus and Microcephaly if You’re Pregnant or Trying
News stories about the dangers of the Zika virus, especially for pregnant women or those trying to get pregnant, are becoming a daily occurrence. There are now 30 confirmed cases of Zika here in the US and one confirmed case of it being spread by sexual transmission. The Zika virus itself is not the greatest concern but rather the link to a dangerous condition called microcephaly.
So what is it and how dangerous is it to you? Here are the most important facts about Zika and microcephaly if you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant:
What is microcephaly?
The term refers to a rare neurological condition in which children have unusually small heads. In many cases it also means a baby’s brain is smaller and may not have developed properly. There is a range of disorders associated with microcephaly. About 10 percent of children are born with normal intelligence, and simply have a smaller head. At the other end are those who cannot talk or walk and need constant care. Then there are those in between who are high-functioning but have intellectual disabilities, difficulties with speech or coordination, or seizures. While there’s no treatment or way to reverse the condition, early intervention treatments — such as speech therapy, occupational therapy and other special needs therapy — have helped some children.
Have there been cases of microcephaly in the US before the Zika virus?
In the U.S., the birth defect is extremely rare and affects about two to 12 infants out of 10,000 live births, according to the CDC.
How does the Zika virus cause microcephaly?
Researchers are now studying the causal effect between Zika and microcephaly but in Brazil and French Polynesia doctors noticed an increase in microcephaly cases that they connected to an increase in Zika virus cases. Until more is known, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant:
- Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bitesduring the trip.
- Women trying to become pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.
Because specific areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing are difficult to determine and likely to change over time, CDC will update this travel notice as information becomes available. Check CDC’s Zika Travel Information website frequently for the most up-to-date recommendations.
What are the symptoms of the Zika virus?
The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes). Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period (the time from exposure to symptoms) for Zika virus disease is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week. The illness is usually mild and rarely requires hospitalization.
How is the Zika virus transmitted?
Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Other mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites. Zika can also be spread through a blood transfusion and sexual contact with an infected person.
If a woman who is not pregnant is bitten by a mosquito and infected with Zika virus, will her future pregnancies be at risk?
The Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for only a few days to a week. The virus will not cause infections in an infant that is conceived after the virus is cleared from the blood. There is currently no evidence that Zika virus infection poses a risk of birth defects in future pregnancies. A women contemplating pregnancy, who has recently recovered from Zika virus infection, should consult her healthcare provider after recovering.
If a woman who has traveled to an area with Zika virus transmission, should she wait to get pregnant?
The Zika virus usually remains in the blood of an infected person for only a few days to a week. The virus will not cause infections in an infant that is conceived after the virus is cleared from the blood. There is currently no evidence that Zika virus infection poses a risk of birth defects in future pregnancies. A women contemplating pregnancy, who has recently travelled to an area with local Zika transmission, should consult her healthcare provider after returning.
It’s important to realize that while the Zika virus is headlines news there’s still a great deal that researchers don’t know. If you or your partner has travelled recently to one of the countries where transmission of the virus is high it’s probably smart to wait for a few weeks to try and get pregnant. And, if you’re pregnant and appear to have symptoms of the Zika virus call your healthcare provider immediately.