Women who are pregnant — or who are considering becoming pregnant — may be worried about the Zika virus. The virus causes a serious birth defect called microcephaly, which is when a baby has a small head and brain. Zika also has been linked to other serious problems in babies, such as eye defects, hearing loss, and impaired growth.
The virus is a particular threat in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands, where several thousand babies have been born with microcephaly. Zika-spreading mosquitoes have also been found in the United States (Florida and Puerto Rico). Some people in the U.S. have Zika infections. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika or microcephaly.
Most people who get infected with Zika do not get sick at all and do not even know that they are infected. Those who do get sick usually get mildly ill with symptoms such as fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. The virus can be passed from mothers to babies during pregnancy.
Here are 5 things to know about Zika and pregnancy:
1. Pregnant women (and women trying to get pregnant) should not travel to areas that are currently affected by the Zika outbreak. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is monitoring the countries where people have the virus.
2. If you live in or must travel to countries where the Zika virus is most active, consider postponing becoming pregnant. A woman who develops a Zika infection should wait at least 8 weeks before trying to get pregnant. A male partner who develops a Zika infection should wait at least 6 months. Even if they have no symptoms, women should wait at least 8 weeks after traveling to a Zika-infected area before trying to get pregnant, and men should wait 6 months, since a person can catch the virus and have no symptoms at all.
If you are already pregnant, use a condom during sex throughout the pregnancy or do not have sex during the pregnancy. This also applies to couples where only the male partner has lived in or traveled to an area with Zika virus, even if the woman has not.
Even couples who are not pregnant or not trying to get pregnant should use condoms during sex for at least 6 months after one the partners has traveled to a Zika-infested area. This will help reduce spread of the virus.
3. Try to avoid mosquito bites if you live in or must travel to countries where the Zika virus is most active. To avoid getting bitten:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Stay in homes that have air conditioning or window screens.
- Wear mosquito repellent that is safe for pregnant women. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has information on repellents.
- Dump standing water (such as in children's swimming pools and rainwater in flower pots and old tires), which attracts mosquitoes.
4. Get a blood and/or urine test if you are pregnant and have either lived in or traveled to areas where Zika is active. This is especially important if you now have or have had Zika symptoms. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned that your male partner has lived in or traveled to those areas and may have had a Zika infection. An ultrasound also can show if the baby is developing normally. (If you don't live in a Zika-affected area and have not traveled to one, you do not need these tests, even if you are pregnant.)
5. Talk with your doctor, because the Zika situation can change. Health experts are studying the impact of Zika on mothers and their babies. As more information is known, guidelines could change. Check the CDC's website for the most current updates.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2020 KidsHealth® All rights reserved. Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com