Zika Virus & Pregnancy:  What You Need to Know When Trying to Conceive

If you are thinking about having a baby or currently trying to conceive, the fertility specialists at Atlanta Center for Reproductive Medicine (ACRM) can help you plan for a healthy and safe pregnancy. With the outbreak of the Zika virus, planning your pregnancy is more important than ever. It is critical to know Zika symptoms, how to prevent the spread of the virus, and how this outbreak affects those trying to conceive. 

Zika Symptoms & Risks

What is the Zika virus? 

Zika is a virus that is carried by the Aedes mosquito. These mosquitoes are mostly daytime mosquitoes, but they can also bite at night. The Aedes mosquito also carries Dengue virus and Chikungunya virus. Zika was first discovered in Uganda in 1947. It was mostly localized to Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands prior to 2015.

What are the symptoms of a Zika infection?

Zika infections are usually asymptomatic, meaning that the person does not know they're infected. Symptoms usually resemble a fever or cold and last a few days to one week.  Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Rash
  • Headache
  • Red eyes

How do people get infected?

  1. Mosquito bites – The mosquito bites an affected person then bites/infects an uninfected person.

  2. From a pregnant woman to her fetus (vertical transmission) – To date, there are no reports of transmitting Zika through breastfeeding.

  3. Sexual intercourse – From a man to his sex partners. To date, the transmitting man has always had symptoms. The virus stays in semen longer than in blood.

  4. Blood transfusion (unconfirmed cases)

What are the risks of a Zika virus infection?

Non-pregnant, healthy adults will usually recover and become immune. Rarely, adults may develop Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a severe condition involving paralysis. Children, elderly and individuals with poor health may have more severe effects. 

Pregnant women can pass the infection to their fetus and the risks to the fetus include miscarriage, microcephaly (small head), growth problems and other birth defects related to the eyes, hearing and brain.

Where is the Zika virus found? Do people in the United States have Zika?

Zika is now found in many countries and territories including Africa, Southeast Asia, South America, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and the American Samoa.

Prior to July 2016, Zika cases in the continental United States have been associated with outside travel. However, as of August 3, 2016, the CDC has confirmed a neighborhood in Miami, Florida where the disease is spread locally by mosquitoes. Please check the CDC website for the most current affected areas: https://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html

Tips for Protecting Yourself From Zika

How can I prevent a Zika infection?

Meticulous mosquito control 

  • Spray your yard/living space.
  • Eliminate standing water - the mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water.

Prevent mosquito bites

  • Long pants/long-sleeve shirts (consider treating with permethrin or buy pre-treated).
  • Apply long-lasting insect repellants containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol.
    • These are safe for pregnant/breastfeeding women, when used according to instructions
    • Repellants should not be used on babies < 2 months old
    • Oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol should not be used on children < 3 years
  • Close doors and use air-conditioning. If doors cannot be closed, consider mosquito netting.
  • Individuals/couples who are pregnant (or planning to become pregnant) should avoid traveling to Zika-affected areas.
  • To avoid sexual transmission, abstinence or barriers/condoms should be used.

What if I think I'm infected?

  • See your health care provider.
  • There are blood and urine tests available for diagnosis.
  • There is no treatment and no vaccine.
  • Supportive care includes rest, hydration, Tylenol/acetaminophen (do not use aspirin or Ibuprofen/NSAIDS.)
  • Pregnant women will receive extra monitoring/testing of their fetus.

Zika & Pregnancy – What You Should Know

What if I have to travel to a Zika-affected area?

Individuals who plan on conceiving should consider freezing eggs, sperm and/or embryos prior to travel. 

After an exposure, women should wait 8 weeks to conceive. Men are advised to wait up to 6 months to conceive.

What if my partner has traveled to a Zika-affected area?

After an exposure, women should wait 8 weeks to conceive. Men are advised to wait up to 6 months to conceive.

Pregnant women should avoid intercourse or use barrier protection (condoms) for the duration of their pregnancy if they have a male sexual partner who has traveled to a Zika-affected area.

What if I don’t plan to conceive now?

Individuals who plan on conceiving in the future should consider egg or sperm freezing, you can learn more about egg freezing here.

At ACRM, we do everything we can so patients may achieve their ultimate goal – a healthy baby. If you have any questions about trying to conceive and the Zika virus outbreak, please contact us here. We’re happy to help!

Zika Virus Updates

For the most current updates on the Zika Virus go to: www.cdc.gov/zika

 

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