Zika Virus: Should You Be Worried?

Zika Virus unborn baby risks

Learn everything you need to know about the Zika virus, who it might affect and the dangers during pregnancy.

Zika is an infection that was first detected in the 1940s in Uganda. It is spread by active mosquitos and also sexually transmitted. Though generally associated with relatively mild symptoms in adults with developed immune systems, the Zika virus can be extremely dangerous when contracted by pregnant women.

Why is Zika Virus so dangerous for pregnant women?

A birth defect caused by the infection of the Zika virus is microcephaly. Microcephaly means your child will have an underdeveloped brain and much smaller head. This frequently leads to intellectual disability, poor motor function and seizures. A lower life expectancy is another result of this infection being transmitted to an unborn baby.

Symptoms of Zika Virus (as cited by the NHS)

  • a rash
  • itching all over the body
  • a high temperature
  • a headache
  • joint pain (with possible swelling, mainly in the smaller joints of the hands and feet)
  • muscle pain
  • red eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • lower back pain
  • pain behind the eyes

If you are experiencing these symptoms after travelling to an affected area, consult your GP. If you or your partner are pregnant this is especially necessary. A blood test and/or an ultrasound will be carried out as tests.

How to reduce the risk of Zika Virus

With no vaccination nor medication available to protect against this virus, it is strongly advised that pregnant women do not travel to affected areas. If travel is essential then you must take all precautions possible to avoid being bitten. The Aedes mosquito is most active during the day and people are being told to:

  • Wear light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts and trousers
  • Apply sunscreen before using insect repellent
  • Keep doors and windows shut and use air conditioning
  • Use insect repellents containing DEET

Pregnant women and those wishing to conceive are to follow this guidance scrupulously and ensure they use an insect repellent with 50% DEET. Midwives say this is perfectly safe in pregnancy and vastly reduces the risk of being bitten.

Zika Virus no flying
Credit: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

Where does Zika Virus come from?

Zika, which spreads through day-time active mosquitos, was first discovered in Uganda in the 1940s. For a long while it was confined to a small area along the equator in Africa and Asia. However, several years ago it began to spread into the Americas and a correlation between Zika and brain defects in unborn children of those infected became apparent.

Countries pregnant women should avoid

A number of countries have detected active cases of the Zika virus, although some have been deemed higher risk than others. There have been travel notices issued in areas of Central Africa, Central America, South America, the Caribbean and some Pacific Islands.

Up to date information on the Zika virus and the countries affected can be found on the Public Health England website or by contacting your GP or healthcare provider.

Zika Virus Common Questions

Sisters Marina Fogle and Dr Chiara Hunt, founders of The Bump Class, explain everything you need to know about the issue of the Zika Virus in pregnancy

What if I’ve already been to a Zika area while pregnant?

Your GP will recommend that you be tested. This will either be a blood or urine test. If you test positive for Zika, obstetricians will keep a close eye on the development of your baby.

What if my partner has visited a Zika area while I’m pregnant?

He needs to be tested. Because Zika can be passed on through sex, you should not have sex without using condoms before the results are back.

What if I’ve booked a holiday and can’t get my money back?

Don’t go – it’s just not worth it. You could try asking your travel insurance company if it will cover cancellation fees.

We are trying to conceive but have just visited a Zika area, what should we do?

The advice is for women to wait eight weeks before trying. However, because Zika stays for longer in sperm, men need to wait for six months. So if you have both travelled, you both need to wait for six months unless you get tested and have a negative result.

If I have Zika and am pregnant, what are the chances that our baby will have a brain defect?

Neonatal outcomes take years to determine, so there is no accurate data on this yet. That said, the risk of Zika to unborn children is significant so always follow the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov). 

Where do we need to avoid?

This often changes, again check the cdc.gov website before you travel. Broadly, travel notices have been issued in parts of Central Africa, Central America, South America, the Caribbean and some Pacific islands.

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