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With outbreak of the Zika virus in Central and South America, as well as recent cases in the U.S., pregnant women have been asked to exercise caution when traveling to these locations, or preferably, postponing these trips entirely.

Dr. Erica Hardy, of the Women's Infectious Disease Consultative Service at Women & Infants Hospital, a Care New England hospital offers this summary of what you need to know as a pregnant woman or non-pregnant visitor to at-risk zones.

A statement released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on April 13, 2016, scientists have concluded a definitive link between the Zika virus, microcephaly and other birth defects in infants. In the study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, the authors state, “We’ve now confirmed what mounting evidence has suggested, affirming our early guidance to pregnant women and their partners to take steps to avoid Zika infection and to health care professionals who are talking to patients every day. We are working to do everything possible to protect the American public.” Scientists are clear, however, that not all women who contract Zika while pregnant will give birth to children with birth defects.

Brenna Hughes, MD
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus  
Pregnant women in any trimester can be infected with Zika virus. Pregnant women should avoid travel to countries where the CDC advisory applies. If pregnant women travel to an area where there is known virus transmission, she should follow steps to avoid mosquito bites.

There is no commercial vaccine or antiviral treatment to prevent Zika virus

Because there is no vaccine or medications available to prevent the virus, the CDC recommends that all pregnant women consider postponing travel to areas where the transmission is ongoing. Common destinations where one should practice enhanced precautions include: Central America, South America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Caribbean, Burma, Arabian Peninsula, Nigeria, Ukraine, Laos, Madagascar, and Guinea. This list is likely to change as we learn more about the virus, visit the CDC website for updates.

The mosquitos that spread the virus bite both indoors and outdoors, mostly during the daytime.  

This mosquito is unusual because of its daytime activity, not just at dusk and dawn. Keep yourself protected from bites by: 

  • Wearing long sleeve shirts and pants.
  • Applying insect repellent. Insect repellents, when used as directed on the product label, are safe for pregnant women to use. NOTE: Insect repellent should contain at least 20 percent DEET. It is not recommended to use any brand of repellent that is a "natural product."
  • Staying in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms.
Can Zika be transmitted sexually?

There is evidence that the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted by a man to his sex partners. It is important to note that the virus remains present in semen longer than in blood. At this time, there is no evidence that a woman can transmit Zika sexually to her partner. For more information on the Zika virus and sexual transmission, visit Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

What are the symptoms? 

About one in five people effected with the Zika virus become ill. If you are a pregnant woman with recent (within 2 weeks) history of travel to an area with Zika virus transmission and have two or more of the following symptoms, call your obstetric provider: 

  • Acute onset of fever.
  • Maculopapular rash - flat, red area on the skin that is covered with small bumps.
  • Arthralgia – pain in one or more of your joints.
  • Pink eye
What will the Zika virus test reveal?

Some women may require laboratory evaluation or fetal ultrasound during their pregnancies. In women suspected of having Zika virus infection during pregnancy, a recommended next step is referral to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.

For an updated list of FAQs for providers and patients on the risks to both pregnant and non-pregnant populations, visit the CDC's website.

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