Every day it seems we’re learning more about Zika virus – from how it’s spread to who it affects and how to contain it.
With a confirmed case of Zika virus now in Ohio, Dr. Stephen Crane, chairman of maternal fetal medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital, suggests pregnant women keep an open and ongoing dialogue with their physician about the virus and learn ways to minimize their risk of exposure.
Knowledge is often the first line of defense so below are 7 commonly asked questions about Zika virus.
How can Zika virus be transmitted?
According to the CDC, Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus.
Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites. Mosquitoes that spread Zika virus bite both indoors and outdoors, mostly during the daytime.
It’s also possible that Zika virus could be passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy. Studies are currently being conducted to understand how some mothers can pass the virus to their babies.
A mother infected with Zika virus near the time of delivery can pass on the virus to her newborn around the time of birth, but this is rare.
There have also been reports of the virus being spread through blood transfusion and sexual contact.
How can pregnant women minimize their risk of exposure to Zika virus?
The only way to prevent congenital Zika virus infection (pregnant woman passing the virus on to her unborn child) is for the mother to prevent infection. This can be done by avoiding areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing or strictly following steps to avoid mosquito bites.
When used as directed on the product label, insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin and IR3535 are safe for pregnant women.
The CDC recommends pregnant women and those who wish to become pregnant postpone travel to Central America, the Caribbean and South America. But if travel to these areas is unavoidable, women should read the CDC recommendations before they travel.
Pregnant women should also discuss their male partner’s potential exposure to mosquitoes and history of Zika-like illness with their physician.
Men who reside in or have traveled to an area of active Zika virus who have a pregnant partner should abstain from sexual activity or consistently and correctly use condoms during sex for the duration of the pregnancy.
Are pregnant women more susceptible to Zika virus infection?
No evidence exists to suggest that pregnant women are more susceptible to Zika virus infection or that they experience more severe disease during pregnancy. Pregnant women can be infected with Zika virus in any trimester.
“We don’t have a lot of information on Zika virus yet but, generally speaking, earlier exposure to a harmful virus may have more impact on the baby (not mom) because vital organs develop in early pregnancy,” said Dr. Crane.
Should pregnant women be tested for the Zika virus now that there’s a confirmed case in Ohio?
The CDC recommends women who traveled to an area with ongoing Zika virus transmission during pregnancy be evaluated for Zika infection and tested in accordance with CDC guidelines.
Testing isn’t necessary for women without a travel history to an area with Zika virus transmission.
Can my baby be screened for Zika virus?
“Newborns aren’t routinely screened unless there’s an indication for it,” Dr. Crane said.
But newborns should be tested if they have:
- signs of Zika infection at birth such as a small head,
- mothers who traveled or lived in an area with Zika virus, or
- mothers who have positive or inconclusive blood test results for Zika.
It’s important pregnant women tell their physician about any possible exposure to the virus so screening can be done.
Even if a baby doesn’t suffer microcephaly (a birth defect characterized by brain damage and an unusually small head), Zika infection could be linked to other abnormalities.
What are symptoms of Zika virus?
Only 1 out of 5 people infected with Zika develop symptoms. Symptoms are generally mild and can include fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes during or within 2 weeks of travel to an affected region.
Additionally, if ultrasound findings of microcephaly are found in the baby, a mother should be tested for Zika virus.
To date, no specific antiviral treatment is available for Zika virus infections and no vaccine against Zika virus is available.
Can Zika virus harm a baby or toddler?
Studies are under way to investigate whether the Zika virus causes complications in newborns. Scientists are working to rule out the role other factors may play (i.e. prior or concurrent infection with other organisms, nutrition and environment).
Medical outcomes that might be associated with Zika virus infections during pregnancy and after birth are still unknown at this time.