The recent outbreak of Zika virus has become a concern to pregnant women this year. The Zika virus is an infection transmitted by mosquitos. Infections have been reported in Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Infections have now also been reported in Samoa and Cape Verde. You should not be at risk for infection if you are in contact with an infected person, but there has been one report of Zika virus infection through sexual contact with an infected person. When pregnant women become infected, there is a risk of fetal birth defects, including microcephaly (small head) and other poor pregnancy outcomes. Only about 20% of infected people will have any symptoms, and those symptoms are usually mild (rash, low grade fever, joint pain). A few people may have more severe symptoms.
I practice in Texas, where many of my patients travel to Mexico during their pregnancies. The CDC has issued a travel alert cautioning women about traveling to countries where the virus has been found. They recommend that you delay travel to these countries if possible. If you do decide to travel, use insect repellent. Here are some safe insect repellents in pregnancy:
- Cutter Advanced
- Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus
- Eucalyptus oil
There is no vaccine for Zika virus, and no anti-viral treatment for people who become infected. The illness lasts about a week. We don’t know how high the risk is for pregnant women to pass the virus to their babies. Since Zika virus infections are pretty short, they should not pose any risk to future pregnancies. If you have traveled to an affected region and think you may be infected, contact your OB, and do what you would do for any other viral illness – rest, hydrate, and take acetaminophen(no aspirin or ibuprofen). The CDC and some state labs can test for Zika virus. Your pregnancy will need to be followed more closely for fetal abnormalities.
The bottom line: avoid traveling to affected areas if you can, use insect repellent if you must travel, and contact your OB provider if you have any concerns. You can find out more by visiting CDC.gov/zika.