News about Zika seems to be filling our news feeds lately. And with the announcement of Zika in Florida, including confirmed cases in the Miami area, everyone is feeling a bit cautious about this seemingly new disease. But, what do we actually need to know about Zika… and, what if we’re planning on traveling to an area where it has been detected?
Our medical expert, Dr. Marla, is helping us understand what we need to know about Zika and how we can protect ourselves.
What we know about Zika
What we do know is that the Zika virus is transmitted via a specific mosquito. If a male is infected, he can spread it to his sexual contacts. While we do know how people can contract Zika, we don’t know if there’s a difference in outcomes for the woman if she is infected from a mosquito directly, verses if she is infected via her male sexual partner.
Most alarming to moms and women who are pregnant or considering becoming pregnant, we also know, that if a woman is infected, she can then transmit the virus to the unborn fetus or at the time of delivery.
And, what we don’t know
What we don’t know is that if a woman is infected how it will impact the outcome of the pregnancy. We also don’t know at exactly which stage of pregnancy birth defects will occur with an exposure.
As the CDC points out, it was the reported association between Zika and microcephaly — the condition where babies are born with a smaller than expected head, due to abnormal brain development — that initiated the worldwide investigation on the disease. It has been confirmed that the Zika virus infection during pregnancy is a cause of microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects, which include and eye defects, hearing loss, and impaired growth.
To quote the CDC: “We think that Zika virus infection in a woman who is not pregnant would not pose a risk for birth defects in future pregnancies after the virus has cleared from her blood. From what we know about similar infections, once a person has been infected with Zika virus, he or she is likely to be protected from a future Zika infection.”
If a woman is infected, it is suggested she wait two months before attempting a pregnancy and if the male partner has Zika, it is suggested you wait six months before attempting a pregnancy.
I’m pregnant right now and we have a trip planned. Should I be worried?
There are no guarantees in life, as we all know, but each person has to weigh the risk of where they are traveling and the absolute need to go there versus the risk of an infection. Clearly, if you are pregnant or contemplating a pregnancy, both you and your partner have to consider this and make a decision. There is a lot of heightened anxiety in areas where the risk is low, so sit down with your healthcare provider and get the facts that are specific for you.
If you or your husband have traveled to a Zika-infected area and are pregnant, or contemplating a pregnancy, you can talk to your physician about screening tests. A recent article in the Annals of Internal Medicine pointed out that pregnancy delays can have a substantial effect on reducing cases of microcephaly, but the timing and duration has to be long enough. If you are in a Zika area or traveling to one, practice the advice of mosquito control measures currently in place.
Lastly, remember that there are many vaccine-preventable illnesses that many have become cavalier about and refuse vaccine uptake, including measles, mumps, and rubella. All three are vaccine-preventable diseases that you should be immunized and protected before pregnancies. The highly contagious risk of exposure to newborns for these diseases can be life threatening as well, and vaccines are available for adults, children, and grandparents who can put babies at risk. So while Zika as an emerging disease feels scary to many, knowing the facts and your personal risk can help you make a decision about travel.
Join us on Facebook Live on Thursday, August 11th at 11 a.m. EST. Dr. Marla will be joining us to discuss your Zika questions.
Dr. Marla Shapiro is a family doctor and a specialist in preventive medicine and community health. Don’t miss her tips on how to prevent your kids from getting the common skin condition, molluscum contagiosum.
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