Zika Virus and Pregnancy: What We Know

Zika Virus and Pregnancy: What We Know

September 09, 2020

Zika virus is mosquito-borne virus of the Flaviviridae family, first identified in 1947 in Ugandan monkeys. Five years later, it was identified in humans from Uganda and Tanzania. However, it wasn’t until October of 2015 that the association between Zika virus infection and the medical condition microcephaly was first reported by Brazilian scientists.

Since then, Zika virus disease outbreaks have been documented in Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Americas. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there is currently a total of 86 countries and territories with confirmed incidences of mosquito-transmitted Zika infection.

Zika Virus — Baby and Fetus Dangers

Zika virus infection is most concerning during pregnancy due to its potential effects on the unborn baby. The virus is transmitted from the mother to the fetus, resulting in serious congenital malformations, including microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects that can manifest in seizures, hearing and vision problems, permanent damage to joints, developmental delays and additional issues. Furthermore, the Zika virus is associated with pregnancy complications that may give rise to preterm birth and miscarriage.

Zika virus infection has further been shown to be associated with development of Guillain-Barr Syndrome, myelitis and neuropathy, especially in adults and older children.

Transmission of Zika Virus

mosquito on finger

The Zika virus is primarily transmitted through being bitten by an infected mosquito from the Aedes genus, which initially inhabited only tropical and subtropical regions, but are now documented nearly worldwide. This mosquito is known to bite during the day, most frequently in the morning and late afternoon/evening. This same mosquito transmits dengue, Chikungunya and yellow fever, which are other tropical diseases.

Zika virus can also be contracted through unprotected sex with an infected partner. Often it is difficult to tell if someone is infected with the Zika virus, because symptoms are usually mild or even non-existent. In fact, only about one in five people exposed to Zika will become infected and symptomatic. Zika symptoms include fever, muscle/joint pain, conjunctivitis, rash, malaise and headache. Symptoms generally last two to seven days.

Other modes of Zika virus transmission include blood transfusions and organ donation.

Zika Infection Prevention

no mosquitoes

Avoiding Outbreak Regions. There is currently no vaccine for Zika infection, and no medicine that specifically treats it. The presence of Zika virus infection can be confirmed through a blood test.

Women, young children and particularly pregnant women should take steps to avoid mosquito bites, avoiding travel to areas of current outbreak. Regions of outbreak as well as those considered risky due to past outbreaks, can be ascertained on the CDC Zika Map.

Other avoidance measures involve avoiding mosquito bites, including:

  • Covering as much skin as possible with loose, preferably light-colored clothing
  • Keeping doors and windows closed or using secure screens
  • Applying insect repellent that contains DEET, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) or picaridin to the skin or clothes.

Be Informed of the Risks of Sexual Zika Virus Transmission. The WHO recommends that in regions where there is active transmission of Zika virus, anyone with the infection and their sexual partners, especially pregnant women, should be supplied information about the risk of sexual transmission of the Zika virus.

Currently, the WHO believes that Zika virus infection in a female who is not pregnant would not pose a threat to future pregnancies once the virus has cleared from her blood. On the basis of what is known about similar infections, people who have been infected are unlikely to be affected again due to their body’s formation of antibodies.

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