Home / Life What mothers and pregnant women should know about Zika virus Vacations to the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America are out—for now. Here’s what else you need to know. By Motherly January 30, 2016 You’ve probably read the headlines about Zika virus and birth defects—and you might be freaking out. Before you worry any more, check out the latest on exactly what’s known, and we’ll keep updating as more information comes in. Keep calm and carry on, mama. ? Long story short We know the news sounds scary: The Zika virus, a mosquito-born illness that has broken out in Brazil, has been linked to severe birth defects in the babies of pregnant women. Since the outbreak, Zika cases have been confirmed in 23 countries and territories in the Americas. Public health experts are scrambling to determine the exact relationship between Zika and birth defects, and how to prevent the disease’s spread and impact. The CDC recommends that all women who or pregnant or are trying to become pregnant consider avoiding travel to Central America, South America, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Many airlines are offering free refunds and rebooking for pregnant women canceling trips to Zika-hit countries. How it works. . . The birth defect is microcephaly, a condition characterized by a small head and brain damage. It is believed that the infants’ condition may be caused when their pregnant mothers are bitten by mosquitoes carrying the virus. Public health experts don’t yet fully understand the link between contracting the virus and the birth defects. In fact, while initially it was reported that there have been as many as 4,000 cases of microcephaly in Brazil since October, new numbers reveal that that figure included all once-suspected cases, and “confirmed cases of microcephaly linked to Zika in Brazil are still in the single digits.” However, the virus has been found in the bodies of babies with microcephaly who died in infancy. The World Health organization notes that “agencies investigating the Zika outbreaks are finding an increasing body of evidence about the link between Zika virus and microcephaly.” Doctors also think it’s possible that the disease can be sexually transmitted if one partner has the virus, but are looking into the link. You should know. . . Public health experts do not have a clear sense of the scope of the birth defects—for example, they are unsure of the rate at which pregnant women who contract Zika later have babies with microcephaly. In the United States, public health experts are divided over whether or not Zika is likely to spread throughout the country. The experts say. . . Dr. Brian Levine, a leading OB/GYN who practices with Maven, the digital health clinic for women, keeps it simple for mamas wondering what they can do: First and foremost, limit travel to affected regions. That is the easiest way to address this concern. For pregnant women who reside in, or must travel to, areas affected by the pandemic, the CDC is currently recommending that women take extreme precautions minimize the risk of mosquito bites including but not limited to: • Staying and sleeping in screened or air-conditioned rooms; • Covering exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants; • Using insect repellents containing DEET, or other agents considered safe in pregnancy; and • Wearing permethrin-treated clothing and gear Motherly expert pediatrician, Seattle Mama Doc Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, reminds women that: “Zika virus will only affect an unborn baby who is exposed to Zika in utero if mom is infected WHILE she is pregnant. Meaning, women not pregnant who get Zika can have Zika virus, clear the virus from her bloodstream (typically about one week after illness resolves) and not transmit Zika to future babies.” Some mamas ask. . . What happens if Zika becomes widespread in the United States? Dr. Levine answers: “The type of mosquito capable of carrying and spreading the disease, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, is not uncommon in South Florida. It is the same mosquito that has transmitted the tropical diseases of yellow fever, dengue and chikungunya. With that said, we have not seen infected Aedes aegypti mosquitos as of yet in the continental United States. If Zika were to be suspected in the United States, it’s important to know that we have robust infrastructure to manage mosquito infestations. For example, in Miami-Dade County, the Mosquito Control Unit is not doing anything additional because of the Zika virus, but the department actively monitors the mosquito population and responds to complaints about mosquito activity.” And remember. . . Information about Zika is constantly being updated as new research and insights come in.