Zika Virus and Pregnancy

The Zika virus is especially dangerous for pregnant women since an infection puts them at very high risk for birthing children with medical problems, such as microcephaly, dwarfism, and development delays. The infection can also cause complications in pregnancy.

The virus can also be transmitted through sexual intercourse as the virus has been found in various bodily fluids, including ejaculate, saliva, urine, amniotic fluid, breast milk, and spinal fluid.

Zika Virus

The Zika virus is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, the same type that carries dengue fever, yellow fever, and chikungunya virus.

Zika was first identified in monkeys in Uganda in 1947 and in human beings in 1952. The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued an announcement for the Zika Virus Disease since 2007 as the disease has widely and continuously spread. Confirmed infected patients have been found in 67 countries in Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, and America, and the disease is likely to spread to more countries since the disease can so easily be transmitted. Furthermore, the mosquito responsible for the transmission of the Zika virus can be found on many continents around the world.

The incubation period of the Zika virus is 3-12 days. Symptoms of the infection are similar to those of the arbovirus, which is also transmitted by mosquitoes. Examples include encephalitis, yellow fever, and dengue fever. Only 1 in 4 infected pregnant women will demonstrate symptoms that are usually mild and last 2-7 days. These symptoms may include:

  • Fever.
  • Rash on the torso and/or legs.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache, muscle pain, joint pain, back pain.
  • Joint swelling.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes.
  • Eye inflammation.
  • Diarrhea.
A Zika infection can be diagnosed by analyzing blood or urine sample or a sample of bodily fluids, such as saliva, amniotic fluid, breast milk, and spinal fluid in the laboratory.
There is no treatment for Zika and no vaccination to prevent its transmission. If infected, a pregnant woman will be carefully monitored by her obstetrician and an infectious disease specialist. Any symptoms that are present will be managed and she will be advised to get adequate rest and drink plenty of fluids. If a fever is present or she is experiencing any pain, paracetamol will be recommended. Pregnant women should not take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or aspirin as some medication can cause internal bleeding in someone infected with the Zika virus.

It is very important that the infected pregnant women undergo careful fetal surveillance, including regular ultrasounds to monitor the growth of the baby and to detect any abnormalities, especially in the size of the head. The woman will also have a non-stress test to assess the health of the baby.
  • Eliminate all sources of mosquitoes by keeping the home clean and making sure it is well ventilated. Pour out or cover any standing water, such as in potted plants, as mosquitoes breed in this water.
  • Use an insect repellent.
  • Wear long-sleeved tops and long pants.
  • Keep all doors and windows closed. Installs screens on the doors and windows. Use mosquito nets as necessary.
  • Always consult a doctor before becoming pregnant, especially when there are known cases of Zika infection where you are.
  • Pregnant women should not travel to countries where certain diseases are currently epidemic. Check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for the latest information regarding travel warnings to certain countries.
  • If the partner of a pregnant woman has traveled to a country where Zika is prevalent, sexual intercourse should be avoided through the duration of the pregnancy or condoms should be used.
  • Couples who are planning to get pregnant who have traveled to a country where Zika is prevalent should wait at least eight weeks to try to conceive to ensure that they are not infected. They should wait up to six months if presenting symptoms.

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