You may have heard about the Zika virus, and of the case confirmed recently in Houston, Texas. Last Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommended that pregnant women postpone travel to 14 countries and territories, including Mexico, where Zika outbreaks have occurred. So what is the Zika virus, and what do you need to know if you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant?
1. What is the Zika virus?
The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne illness primarily contracted by a mosquito bite. Initially identified in the 1950s in Africa and parts of South and Southeast Asia, the first case was reported in the Americas in 2014. In recent years, reports of babies with serious birth defects born to mothers infected with the Zika virus have increased sharply.
2. What are the symptoms of the Zika virus?
Symptoms of the Zika virus are generally mild and may include a fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. However, the CDC states that only about one in five people infected with the virus experience symptoms, so you may not even know if you’ve been infected. Even more alarming, “There’s no vaccine or treatment for the Zika virus,” said Karen Carcamo, M.D., an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Institute for Women’s Health, San Antonio. “Therefore, we recommend women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites, such as wearing mosquito repellant daily and clothing that covers the majority of the skin.”
“The CDC states that only about one in five people infected with the virus experience symptoms, so you may not even know if you’ve been infected”
3. How does the Zika virus affect pregnant women and their babies?
The Zika virus is believed to be spread from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby. Reports have shown poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers infected with the Zika virus during their pregnancy, including serious birth defects of the brain. In light of limited information surrounding the extent of these effects, the CDC is urging all pregnant women to avoid any non-essential travel to the countries identified on this list. “It’s important to note that, while the CDC is recommending travelers to these countries take enhanced precautions, they have a stronger set of recommendations for pregnant women,” Dr. Carcamo cautioned. The CDC website is an excellent source for the most current information regarding the Zika virus, Dr. Carcamo added.
4. If you’re pregnant and think you’ve contracted the Zika virus, what should you do?
“First things first: call your obstetrician,” Dr. Carcamo stressed. “Your obstetrician can document the exposure and determine whether further testing may be necessary. Most importantly: Remain calm. The odds are likely it may not be the Zika virus, but rather an upper respiratory infection or allergies.” Still, since no vaccine or effective treatment exists for the Zika virus, prevention is critical. The Zika virus may sound scary, but fortunately, prevention is relatively simple.
“We strongly urge women in any trimester of their pregnancy to consider postponing travel to any area affected by the Zika virus, including Mexico and the Caribbean,” Dr. Carcamo said. “If you absolutely must travel to these areas, please be diligent about strictly following the steps to prevent mosquito bites.”
Karen Carcamo, M.D., MPH, is an obstetrician-gynecologist with the Institute for Women’s Health, San Antonio. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Carcamo, please call 210.615.8585.