Zika Virus and Pregnancy: Transmission, Outcomes, and Precautions

Published on: 09/16/2016

Cases of Zika Virus have been identified and confirmed in the United States and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In the U.S., locally acquired cases of Zika Virus transmission have only occurred in Florida, while travel-associated cases of Zika Virus have occurred across the nation.

Even though the Zika Virus often results in mild flu-like sickness in adults, it can produce severe birth defects in pregnant women. Because the Zika Virus can be transmitted through both mosquitoes and sexual contact, regardless of where people reside in the U.S., men and women should take precautions against Zika Virus transmission and understand the effects it has on pregnancy.

Read on to learn about Zika Virus transmission, its effects on pregnancy, precautions men and women can take to avoid becoming infected, and what to do if one has become infected.

Zika Virus Transmission

The Zika Virus is primarily transmitted three ways:

  • Mosquitoes

    Zika Virus can be transmitted through its primary vector—the mosquito. Anyone can become infected by being bitten by an infected mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected by feeding on an infected person and then spread the disease.
  • Sexual Contact

    Zika Virus can be transmitted via sexual contact from an infected person to his or her partner. The virus can be passed before the person shows symptoms, while they show symptoms, and after they show symptoms. The virus can be transmitted by women for 8 weeks after they’ve been infected and can be transmitted by men for 6 months after they’ve been infected. Condoms reduce the chance of the Zika virus being sexually transmitted.
  • Pregnancy

    Zika Virus can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy, which can result in severe birth defects such as microcephaly.

Zika Virus Birth Defects

If a woman who is pregnant or about to become pregnant contracts the Zika Virus, she may pass the Zika Virus to her baby during pregnancy, which could result in microcephaly or other severe fetal brain defects. Microcephaly is a medical condition in which a baby’s head is smaller than other babies’ heads of the same sex and age. Microcephaly can affect the child’s brain resulting in seizures, developmental delays, intellectual disability, and movement and balance issues. Documented Zika Virus birth defects have also included eye defects, hearing loss, and impaired growth.

According to the CDC, based on available evidence, women who contract Zika Virus are not at risk for passing the virus on if they become pregnant after the virus has cleared from their blood. Additionally, based on similar infections, evidence shows once someone has been infected with Zika Virus, it is likely that he or she will be protected from contracting it again in the future.

Zika Virus Precautions

There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika Virus prevention or treatment. If you or your partner is pregnant, planning on becoming pregnant, or may become pregnant, you must take precautions to prevent Zika Virus transmission and infection to your baby.
Three easy precautions can be taken to prevent Zika Virus infection:

  • Avoid Bites from Infected Mosquitoes

    Those living in or near an infected area, such as Wynwood or Miami Beach in Miami, or who travel to those areas, should protect themselves against mosquito bites. Use an EPA-registered insect repellent that has at least one of the following as an active ingredient: DEET, Picaridin (KBR 3023, Bayrepel, icaridin), oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or IR3535. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and close-toed shoes treated with permethrin.
  • Use a Condom During Sex

    Those living in an infected area, should use a condom (male or female) during vaginal, anal, or oral sex for as long as the region in is infected. have traveled to an infected area and are not showing symptoms, use a condom for at least 8 weeks after returning from the trip. Those infected with Zika Virus or showing symptoms, should use a condom for at least 8 weeks if female or 6 months if male to avoid spreading the virus.
  • Get Tested for Zika Virus

    A simple blood or urine test can confirm whether or not you a person is infected with Zika Virus. Those showing symptoms or those who have traveled to an infected area, can ask their doctor or another healthcare provider to test for the Zika Virus.

What if you think you’ve been infected with Zika Virus?

Those who live in or near an infected area, such as Wynwood and Miami Beach in Miami, or those who have traveled to those areas and are experiencing the symptoms listed below, may be infected with Zika Virus. If you suspect you are infected with Zika Virus, follow the steps below. Remember, Zika Virus results in mild flu-like symptoms in adults and is only a major health concern when contracted by a woman who is pregnant or may become pregnant.

Evaluate Your Symptoms

Many people infected with Zika Virus will not experience any symptoms. Those that do show symptoms may experience:
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint pain
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache

Get Tested for Zika Virus

If you are experiencing these symptoms and have been exposed to an infected region, request a Zika Virus test from your doctor or another healthcare provider.

Talk to Your Doctor

If you are diagnosed with Zika Virus and are not pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, you should follow the guidelines listed above for condom use to prevent the infection of others. If you are diagnosed and you are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, you should talk to your doctor about the best plan for your unique situation.
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