Zika Virus and Pregnancy

An OB/GYN answers our pressing questions about this terrifying new pregnancy risk.

Zika Virus and Pregnancy

We know the pregnant bikini selfie is practically a rite of passage, but you may have to put that tropical themed babymoon on pause. New information continues to emerge about the spread of the Zika virus, and pregnant women around the world should pay close attention. This mosquito-borne virus can be transmitted from mom-to-baby, and cause a congenital condition called microcephaly, resulting in a baby with a small head and abnormal brain growth.

While the information around Zika is still evolving -- and understandably scary -- the best way to stay safe is to arm yourself with information. We asked Cara Dolin, MD, OB/GYN and Maternal-Fetal Medicine Fellow at NYU Langone Medical Center to break down what pregnant women need to know right now about the Zika Virus.

Note: News about the Zika Virus is being updated regularly. Please check the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for more real-time news.

What is the zika virus and why is it so important to me if I'm pregnant?

Zika is a virus that is spread to humans through mosquito bites. Zika causes a mild illness in some people with symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. However, there is a concern that Zika can be transmitted from mom-to-baby and cause a condition called microcephaly, which means the baby has a small head and abnormal brain growth.

At what stages of pregnancy am I most vulnerable?

Zika virus can infect pregnant women and potential affect the baby in any trimester. Unfortunately, there's still a lot that we don't know about Zika virus in pregnancy.

How do you get it? Is there any treatment?

People get Zika virus after being bitten by an infected mosquito. As of now, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika and there is no medication to treat Zika virus.

Where are the travel advisories in effect?

The (CDC) has issued a travel advisory for:

Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Martin, Samoa, Suriname, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and the US Virgin Islands.

This list is evolving as more cases are being reported so check the CDC website or ask your doctor before planning any trips.

Must I cancel my trip, or are there any ways I can travel and still protect myself?

If you're pregnant, you should postpone travel to any of these areas. If you must travel, talk to your doctor first and be sure to take extra precautions to protect yourself from mosquito bites. The mosquitoes that carry Zika mostly like to bite in the daytime but you should protect yourself 24/7 with EPA-approved DEET bug spray, cover any exposed skin (pants, long sleeves, hats), use permethrin on your clothes and stay indoors when possible. It is safe to use EPA-approved DEET bug spray if you're pregnant as long as you follow the directions on the label. Prevention is the key with Zika.

I've just traveled to one of those places! What should I do?

Talk to your doctor ASAP. Your doctor may want to send you for special ultrasounds of the baby's head and possibly test you for the virus if you've had any symptoms.

If I'm not traveling, but I am currently pregnant, am I at risk at all? What can I do to minimize my risk?

Right now you are not at risk. There have been no reported cases of anyone getting Zika from a mosquito in the U.S. (except Puerto Rico) but there have been cases in NYC in people who contracted the virus while traveling abroad. There are no cases yet of people contracting the virus in NYC (or even the continental US). Information about Zika is definitely evolving as we learn more about the virus and it's effect on pregnancy. It's possible that the virus will continue to spread, but for now there is no risk in the US.

Any reason to believe Zika could spread to other areas around the world or even here in the US? What about when mosquito season hits?

It's impossible to know how widely this will spread. Luckily it's the middle of winter so we don't need to worry about mosquitoes. The key is prevention, so when mosquito season hits, if Zika has been reported in the US, stock up on the bug spray.

Should I just wait to get pregnant till this blows over?

Currently, there is no risk of getting Zika virus in the U.S., but if you're concerned you should always talk to your doctor. In general it is safe to travel as Zika virus is a mild illness in non-pregnant people. Prevention is key, so take measures to avoid misquote bites while traveling. Per the CDC, the virus is out of your system within in a week, so you should be safe to start trying after two weeks. But always check with your doctor as these recommendations may also change as we have new information.

Can microcephaly be treated either during pregnancy or after?

Microcephaly results from abnormal brain growth and development. There is no treatment during pregnancy. Long-term effects to can range from mild neurodevelopmental delay to severe deficits such as cerebral palsy.

Image source.

In This Article