Zika Virus: What Pregnant Women Need to Know

Zika-infected mosquitoes may infect pregnant women and unborn children.

One of the most repeated terms on the news lately is the Zika virus. Anyone traveling outside the U.S. and pregnant women have been warned to avoid the disease, but do you know much about it? If you are pregnant, it’s especially important to know what this disease it, how it affects the fetus and how you can reduce your risk of getting the Zika virus. Learn more below.

What is the Zika virus?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mosquitos spread the Zika virus by biting and infecting people in tropical areas. It has been found in areas of South America, Africa, Mexico, India, and Indonesia. People who have been infected with Zika live throughout the world and have recently traveled to these areas. The symptoms of Zika include sensitivity to light, joint pains, an itchy reddish rash, a fever typically below 102 degrees, bloodshot eyes and headache.

Zika and pregnancy

The CDC noted that women who are pregnant and are bitten by infected mosquitoes can pass the Zika virus on to their unborn children. The fetus will then develop birth defects such as microcephaly, which causes the baby’s head to grow much slower and be far smaller than others his or her age. This can cause brain defects, like eye issues, hearing problems and overall impaired growth. Since the disease is so prevalent right now, scientists and pediatricians are studying its effects in areas like Puerto Rico where women are at a high risk of contracting Zika.

“The Zika virus can affect unborn children and pregnant mothers.”

Preventing Zika

Women who live in areas where Zika has been found should consider waiting to become pregnant and using contraceptive methods such as condoms and birth control. Women who live outside of affected areas may choose to avoid traveling to places where Zika is thriving. The virus is mainly transmitted through mosquitoes but has also gone from one person to the next through sexual intercourse.

Diagnosing Zika

There is no commercially available Zika test yet, but researchers are working to create one for use in hospitals in high-threat areas. Women who have been to a Zika-prone area should consider visiting a doctor if they show symptoms of the disease within two to 12 weeks after they have traveled as this is the typical incubation period. Newborns who have been in affected areas may require testing, as well as unborn children who are still in the womb. Doctors can perform a thorough physical examination for children or use an ultrasound to determine if a fetus is at risk. Unborn children who show abnormalities during medical imaging may require amnioscentesis or further testing.

If you and your partner have not been to a Zika-infected area, you do not need to worry about contracting the disease. If you are concerned about traveling, visit the CDC website to view risk levels for the countries currently at the highest levels of Zika exposure.