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ZIKA VIRUS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

There is a lot in the media about a new virus (new to me at least, so I presume new to most of you) called the Zika virus.  Let’s learn a little about this.

What is Zika virus?

Zika virus is a virus spread to people through mosquito bites.  

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).  These symptoms usually start within two weeks of exposure.  The symptoms are usually mild and can last two to seven days.  As many as 80% of infected people won’t even notice any symptoms.

Where is this virus prevalent?

Previous outbreaks of Zika virus have been in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands; however, as you may have noticed in the news, outbreaks are now present in South America, Central America, and some caribbean countries.  Because of this, the CDC has issued a travel advisory for pregnant women to the following places (Click here for exact travel advisories from the CDC):

  • South America
  • Central America
  • Mexico
  • Caribbean
  • Puerto Rico

Who is at risk of getting Zika virus in their pregnancy?

Women, who are CURRENTLY pregnant, who live in or travel to an area where Zika Virus is found (see above).  If a woman gets infected with this virus PRIOR to a pregnancy, according the CDC, it would NOT put her at risk of having a baby with Zika-induced birth defects later on.

What can happen when a pregnant woman gets Zika virus?

It can cause something called microcephaly.  Microcephaly is a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads, causing severe developmental issues, and sometimes death.

How can we evaluate for Zika virus?

For those patients currently pregnant who feel they are at risk for Zika (travel during the pregnancy to one of the aforementioned areas), we have an evaluation algorithm put together by our Maternal Fetal Medicine colleagues.  It involves blood tests and if necessary ultrasound surveillance or amniocentesis.  Unfortunately, there is not a treatment for affected babies. 

How can you prevent getting Zika virus?

In case you were wondering, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus.  There is also no treatment for people exposed.  Thus, people in at-risk areas should use EPA-registered insect repellents (yes…. all these are safe in pregnancy and nursing, even the ones with DEET) and/or cover their skin with long sleeves and pants.  

In short, please let us know if you are pregnant and if you have traveled during your pregnancy to an at-risk part of the world.  We strongly discourage travel to these areas for pregnant women at this time.

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