The Zika Virus: Should Women Delay Pregnancy?

pregnant woman with mosquito on her belly

Pregnancy has long been a source of low-level anxiety for many mamas. After all, we all know (or have read about online) someone who had serious complications with labor, or delivered a stillborn baby, or received devastating news about their newborn’s health. Although most (and we’re talking millions!) of babies arrive in absolutely perfect condition, moms can’t help but harbor a “what if” worry until that sweet baby is safe in their arms.

Which is why the spread of the Zika virus is so scary for pregnant or wanna-be-pregnant women. South and Central America and the Caribbean are all seeing outbreaks of the mosquito-borne illness, which generally causes a mild reaction similar to the flu in affected adults. But it can also cause birth defects in babies, specifically microcephaly, stunted head and brain development. So far about 1,000 babies in six countries have been born with birth defects from Zika. Although not all pregnant women who contract the virus will have babies with birth defects, officials in some countries have become so concerned that they are recommending women delay getting pregnant until the outbreak subsides. In El Salvador, the health minister is advising women to wait until 2018 to have a baby!

No Zika-carrying mosquitos have been discovered in the U.S., though some southern and eastern states are within range of one of the two mosquito types known to carry the disease. For now, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended that pregnant women avoid traveling to the affected areas. Of course that hasn’t stopped others from visiting some of these countries and returning with the Zika virus, which can be spread through sex (although not as effectively as the mosquitoes do). And there are some areas in the United States—territories including Puerto Rico and Guam, south Florida, Texas,and Hawaii—that have experienced small, localized outbreaks of chikungunya and dengue viruses. The mosquitoes that carry and spread these diseases are the same ones that deliver the Zika virus.

As of now, we don’t have any cases of Zika that originated in the United States. The CDC hasn’t had to issue any cautions to American women against getting pregnant. They have advised that all pregnant women take the following precautions:

  • As mentioned, avoid travel to areas known to have the Zika virus.
  • Prevent mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, closing windows and using air conditioning, applying bug repellent, and avoiding mosquito breeding grounds.
  • Don’t have unprotected sex with partners who have lived in or traveled to affected areas.
  • Talk to your doctor about any concerns, especially if you must travel to areas known to have the Zika virus.

Scientists are working on a vaccine, but it’s not projected to be ready until the start of 2018 at the earliest. Until then, our fellow parents in South and Central America will just have to take their chances with pregnancies, or delay having a baby.

What do you think? If you lived in one of the areas with a Zika outbreak, would you risk a pregnancy or wait?