The Zika Virus And Pregnancy

zika virus, healthy pregnancy

An illustration courtesy of L’Institut Pasteur, Paris

Chances are, by the time you are reading this article, you are most likely aware of the existence of Zika virus, since media as well as health agencies have been very proactive in educating public about its potential risks. Since research is ongoing in real time and new (and sometimes conflicting) findings are being regularly announced, the information provided in this chapter reflects published data available as of November 15th, 2016.

So what is Zika?

The virus was discovered and named after the Zika forest located in Uganda, back in 1947. To date, research has confirmed that Zika (a flavivirus similar to those that cause dengue, yellow fever, and West Nile fever) is spread primarily by the bite of an infected mosquito of the Aedes species, which includes Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Both of these species are active during the day as well as night. However, the virus has been found to be transmittable by sexual means as well. Since its major outbreak was reported in Brazil in 2015, Zika infections have been reported throughout Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Americas, including Miami-Dade County in Florida.
Women, who are pregnant, might be the most vulnerable to the effects of the virus, since it could cause a birth defect of the brain called microcephaly or other severe fetal brain defects. Other complications including defects in the eye, hearing deficits, and impaired growth, have also been detected among fetuses and infants infected with Zika virus in vitro.

Although, currently the most affected areas are those with occurrence of the Aedes species, prevention and protection is a key for any woman who is either pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant.

So what does that mean from practical point of view?

  1. if you are planning on becoming pregnant in the next 6 months or so:
  • both you and your partner should avoid traveling to areas most affected by the virus (see current map)
  • if you do have to travel to areas affected by the virus, protect yourself from any mosquito bites, and have yourself tested upon return and consult your health professional.
  1. if you are already pregnant:
  • avoid traveling to areas most affected by the virus, and protect yourself from any mosquito bites even in your current home.
  • if your partner has to travel to areas affected by the virus, he should get tested upon return and consult his health professional. You should practice protected sex after his return, even if he has tested negative.
Just like with any other infectious disease, prevention is most desirable. However, contracting the Zika virus while you are pregnant, doesn’t mean you or your child will suffer any consequences. According to an analysis published in May 2016 in the New England Journal of Medicine, a pregnant woman infected with Zika during the first trimester has a probability of 1 -13 % of having a child with microcephaly. Following research found that most women infected in their second or third trimesters had children with no birth defects.
Although there is currently no treatment or vaccine available, there are some positive advances in current research that show a potential for a Zika vaccine-see updated studies below.
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