Trying to get pregnant? If you are, if you are already pregnant, the Zika virus should be one of the things you should be concerned with now. The Zika virus, a mosquito-borne virus, is dominating headlines with its scary advance into various countries and potentially devastating consequences for pregnant women and their babies.
What is Zika Virus?
This insect-borne illness can be primarily transmitted by an infected Aedes mosquito – the same kind that carries yellow fever and dengue. The name is from the Zika Forest in Uganda. The monkeys with the virus were first found in this very forest in 1947.
Why is Zika virus dangerous?
For patients who showed signs of a Zika infection, the illness is often very mild. In pregnant women, however, the effects can be devastating. It can even include pregnancy loss or a baby born with an abnormally small head and brain (microcephaly). Microcephaly can be associated with developmental delays, seizures, and mental retardation. In some cases, it can be fatal.
Researchers have also found that the Zika virus can cause glaucoma in infants exposed in utero; it has also been linked to vision problems, hearing loss, and impaired growth in babies. All of the possible outcomes for infants infected with Zika is still being studied, but even babies who do not show initial signs of birth defects may develop progressive damage.
In the past, Zika virus had only been associated with significant risk to the fetus – it was not established that the effects were actually caused by it. Now, however, the news has changed and health officials can report a direct link between Zika and microcephaly. There are still many unknowns such as how likely it is that an infection in a pregnant woman will be passed on to her fetus; how often pregnancy loss may occur in expecting women with Zika virus; whether some fetuses are infected but do not develop microcephaly; and whether pregnancy makes women more susceptible to the virus.
Reducing the Risk
The CDC now directs pregnant women to be extremely cautious when it comes to having sex with a partner who has traveled to a region affected by Zika. Couples are advised to use condoms during all forms of sex to reduce the risk of potential transmission or to abstain entirely for the duration of the pregnancy.
Even if a woman is not pregnant, it is essential to take precautions, especially if you are trying to conceive. Men who might have been exposed to the Zika virus should use condoms for six months; when the woman is infected, condoms should be used for eight weeks.