Frequently Asked Questions about the Zika Virus and Pregnancy answered by Los Angeles Obstetrician Dr. Thais Aliabadi
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Q: What is the Zika virus?
Zika is a viral infection that causes mild symptoms and can be transmitted through mosquito bites, sexual intercourse, and from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Although Zika is not deadly, a Zika infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly, a severe neurological birth defect.
Q: What are the symptoms of Zika?
Most people infected with Zika do not realize they’ve become infected. If any symptoms manifest at all, they are likely to be mild. Some common symptoms include:
- Bloodshot eyes (conjunctivitis)
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
A person infected with Zika can still transmit the virus to others, even if they do not feel ill at the time.
Q: Why is Zika dangerous for pregnant women?
Infants born to women infected with the Zika virus have an increased risk of severe brain defects, including microcephaly. Microcephaly impairs fetal neurological growth, and babies born with this condition have smaller brains and a smaller visible head size. Microcephaly is also associated with severe disabilities, including intellectual disabilities and developmental delays, difficulty walking and balancing, hearing and visual impairments, difficulty swallowing, seizures, and early death.
Q: Can microcephaly be cured?
There is no known cure for microcephaly, nor any standard treatment. Microcephaly can range from mild to severe: in the more mild cases, a baby’s head may measure smaller than average, but no significant disability is present. In severe cases, the baby may experience a wide range of neurological and other health problems.
Q: What can I do to prevent a Zika infection?
Currently there is no vaccine to protect against Zika. The best way to prevent Zika is to avoid transmission.
- Avoid mosquito bites. Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs. Use air conditioning to cool your home, or install screens over windows and doors to prevent bugs from coming inside, and sleep under a mosquito net.
- Use insect repellent. Choose a product with ingredients registered with the EPA, such as DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or 2-undecanone.
- Practice safe sex. Zika can be transmitted between partners vaginally, orally, and anally, whether or not an infected person shows symptoms. Use male and/or female condoms and dental dams, or refrain from sex throughout your pregnancy.
- Travel with caution. If you’re pregnant, you and your partner should avoid travelling to areas with Zika. Zika has been identified in areas of South Florida, as well as Mexico, Cape Verde, Singapore, and multiple territories in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and the Pacific islands.
Q: Can Zika be transmitted through breast milk?
There is no evidence to suggest that Zika can be transmitted through breast milk.
Q: How is Zika detected?
Zika is diagnosed through a blood or urine test. If either you or your sexual partner has recently travelled to a Zika-infected area, or are experiencing Zika-like symptoms, visit your healthcare provider for an evaluation.
Q: Should I consider waiting to get pregnant?
If you currently reside in, or must travel to, an area infected with Zika, you may want to consider if this is the right time for you to get pregnant. There are many forms of contraception available to you to help you plan for pregnancy. If you may have been exposed to Zika through travel or unprotected sex, you should wait at least 8 weeks before trying to get pregnant.