What you should know about the Zika virus

According to the Mayo Clinic, Zika is a “mosquito-borne viral infection that primarily occurs in tropical and subtropical areas of the world.” This means that most infections are transmitted through mosquito bites in tropical and subtropical climates, by one of two types of mosquitoes that can carry the virus. Though most news coverage has focused on the risk of mosquito bites transmitting Zika, it has also been determined that the virus can be transmitted sexually. Because it can be transmitted sexually, a person could theoretically be at risk for infection even if they’ve never been to an area where Zika-carrying mosquitoes live.

Zika infections don’t always show symptoms, so some people who are infected with Zika might not have any idea if they aren’t tested. Others might notice a mild fever, rash, headache, conjunctivitis, muscle pain, or a general feeling of discomfort. There’s also evidence that Zika might be related to increased incidences of Guillian-Barre Syndrome, which can affect individuals of any sex or age. However, it’s not the effects in adults that are generally of concern for most people, but rather the effects that the Zika virus could have on developing babies of infected, pregnant mothers.

Zika infections in developing babies have been linked to microcephaly, a condition in which a baby is born with an unusually small brain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that microcephaly can result in medical problems and impaired development in affected babies. Many national health departments have published advisories for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive about the travel risks to certain parts of the world where Zika can be found in mosquitoes. The United States’ CDC recommends that pregnant women avoid travel to all places where Zika infections are common. You can use this tool to help determine your risk.

If you are pregnant or trying to conceive, it’s probably best to avoid travel to places where the virus is spreading. If you live somewhere where the disease is known to spread, it’s best to wear plenty of pregnancy-safe bug spray, as well as clothes that cover the arms and legs to protect yourself from transmission. It’s also a smart idea to properly use latex condoms for intercourse with anybody who might have travelled to a place where Zika is found.

Depending on where you live, it might be standard protocol for your doctor to test you for Zika during pregnancy, or before you try to conceive. If Zika testing is not protocol for where you live, it’s still worth talking to your doctor if you’re concerned.

There is currently no cure or approved vaccination for Zika, so if you do test positive, it’s best to wait to try to conceive until the virus clears from the system. It’s believed the the Zika virus only stays in the blood for about two weeks after infection, but evidence shows that it can remain in semen for at least two months, which means it’s best to avoid intercourse with a Zika-infected person for at least that amount of time. If you’ve been diagnosed with Zika during pregnancy, it’s best to speak to your doctor right away.

The threat of Zika can be scary for women who are pregnant or trying to conceive, and especially for those who live in places where Zika is spreading. Make sure you take all necessary precautions, and don’t hesitate to ask your doctor any questions you might have about Zika and its effects, as well as his or her travel recommendations. If you may have been exposed to Zika, your doctor may recommend testing for your baby after delivery, even if you’ve tested negative for Zika yourself.

  • “Zika and Pregnancy.” CDC. Centers for Disease Control, April 1 2016. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Zika virus disease.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, September 2 2016. Web.
  • “Zika virus and complications: Questions and answers.” WHO. World Health Organization, September 6 2016. Web.
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