The Zika Virus

The Zika virus has been in the news lately and many of our maternity patients are confused and alarmed due to conflicting data and heartbreaking photos of South American babies born with smaller than average head size. The facts about Zika are simple; the virus only can affect a woman if she is already pregnant. Women who have had Zika in the past are in no danger of infecting their unborn child with the Zika virus.

Symptoms are similar to having a common cold or the flu; fever, joint pain, rash and red eyes. The gestation period for the virus is about two weeks and symptoms last between two days to a week. It is estimated that 80% of infected people have no symptoms at all.

Zika is spread through mosquito bites or through sexual contact with an infected man. For Zika to spread, the virus has to be active. It does not lay dormant in the system as in the case of HIV. This means the effective time frame for infection is about 3 weeks.

Risk factors

Zika in a child or adult is no more serious than a cold or the flu. The major concern is that in a small number of cases it is thought – although not proven – that there is a link between the Zika virus and fetal infection causing a condition called microcephaly. This is a birth defect in which the baby’s head is smaller due to lack of growth in the brain. This is a very rare condition with several known causes.

Since there is a possible link between microcephaly and Zika virus, pregnant women can protect their babies by avoiding areas known to harbor the specific type of mosquito that carries the virus. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a list of countries which are known to have the Zika bearing mosquito. These countries are:

  • Central & South America
  • Mexico
  • Puerto Rico
  • Some Caribbean Islands
  • Africa
  • Southeast Asia
  • Pacific Islands

The CDC website has provided full information on travel advisories. (CDC) People living in these countries can protect themselves from mosquito born viruses by wearing clothing that covers as much skin as possible and by liberally using mosquito repellant.

Additionally, pregnant women should avoid having sex with anyone who has travelled in these areas unless they have been screened for Zika virus.

Pregnant women possibly exposed to the Zika virus

Simply being exposed to the virus does not mean the baby is infected. Any pregnant woman who has travelled in areas known to have Zika or who may have been infected through sexual contact can be evaluated by blood tests, ultrasound and amniocentesis to screen for abnormalities.

At Virginia Beach OBGYN we have an abundance of information on fetal health and what mothers can do to give their babies the best start. If you are at all concerned that you may have been infected, come in and speak to your doctor. The media coverage of this virus has been relentless primarily due to the upcoming Olympic Games and the focus of world attention to that area. Our patients can gain peace of mind by coming in and getting the facts about the Zika virus from our Norfolk & Chesapeake OBGYNs.

Zika virus statistics

In the United States, the CDC has reported 1132 cases, most of which reside in Florida. These people acquired the virus while travelling in affected countries. Not one case of locally acquired Zika virus has been reported.

There are many instances of over reporting and incorrectly diagnosing microcephaly in relation to Zika virus. The alarming reports coming out of Brazil earlier this year have now been tempered by investigation by other health agencies. For example, any baby being born with a head measurement less than 32 cm (12 ½ inches approximately) is suspected of having microcephaly. As many people who are completely normal have smaller than average head measurements, using this as the only criteria is very broad and creates the impression that there is a health crisis.

Cooler heads are now prevailing in South American countries and we will soon be seeing statistics that more clearly reveal what threat Zika virus poses to unborn babies. In the United States, instances of the virus are traceable to travelling in affected countries. Knowing this, Zika virus infection can be avoided by simply staying home and to be on the safe side, using mosquito repellent as needed when outside.