If you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant in the near future you need to be aware of the Zika virus. This virus is spread via the Aedes mosquito (as is West Nile Virus, Dengue fever and Chikunguyna), and has been found in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands , South America and Mexico. The Zika virus was also just confirmed in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean in December. There are new countries confirming cases of Zika virus almost every day, as the Aedes mosquito is found throughout the world.
When bitten by a mosquito that has the Zika virus, only about 1 in 5 people actually become ill. The most common symptoms are similar to many other viral infections including fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. For most people the illness is usually mild and lasts for several days to a week and their life returns to normal. Many people may not even realize that they are infected.
Unfortunately, if a pregnant mother is infected with the Zika virus, the virus may be transmitted to the baby. It seems that babies who have been born to mothers who have been infected with the Zika virus may have serious birth defects including microcephaly (small head) and abnormal brain development. There have been more than 3,500 babies born with microcephaly in Brazil alone…and just recently a baby was born in Hawaii with microcephaly and confirmed Zika virus. In this case the mother had previously lived in Brazil and had relocated to Hawaii during her pregnancy. The virus to date has not been confirmed in mosquitos in the United States.
Because of the association of the Zika virus and the possibility of serious birth defects, the CDC has announced a travel advisory stating, “until more is known and out of an abundance of caution, pregnant women in any trimester, or women trying to become pregnant, should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing”.
Should pregnant women have to travel to these area they should follow steps to prevent getting mosquito bites during their trip. This includes wearing long sleeves, staying indoors as much as possible, and using insect repellents that contain DEET.
Researchers are continuing to study the link between Zika virus and birth defects in hopes of understanding the full spectrum of outcomes that might be associated with infection during pregnancy. There will be more data forthcoming.
At this point the safest way to avoid being bitten is to stay away from the countries who have had confirmed cases of the Zika virus. But as the weather warms up in the United States and mosquitos become more abundant there is concern for Zika virus to be found here. It only takes one infected mosquito to bite one person who then contracts the virus….should that person be bitten by another mosquito, that mosquito may acquire the infection and so it spreads. There is not known to be human to human transmission of the virus.