It’s Mosquito Season: What Pregnant Women Should Know about Zika

The Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes from the Aedes species, which bite during both daytime and nighttime. These mosquitoes usually lay their eggs near, or in, containers that hold water, such as buckets, animal dishes, and animal dishes.

The Zika virus continues to spread throughout the world. As of July, 2016, 50 countries have reported cases caused by mosquitoes from the Aedes species.

Symptoms of Zika virus infection include:

  • Rash
  • Achy joints
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Fever

Most individuals with an infection caused by the Zika virus have no symptoms, or very mild symptoms. However, if a woman becomes infected with the virus while she is pregnant, it can be passed through the placenta to her baby, which could result in certain birth defects.

How does Zika affect unborn babies?

The Zika virus is relatively new, therefore, scientists continue to conduct research regarding the exact pathway of transmitting the virus to an unborn baby. Based on the research so far, it appears that the virus reaches the placenta, causing it to become infected. The virus is then passed from the placenta to baby’s brain. The virus may cause baby’s brain to stop developing, resulting in a condition called microcephaly. In severe cases, baby’s skull may be partially collapsed. It can also cause damage to the back of baby’s eyes, as well as damage to the joints and muscles.

The virus may also cause the woman to have a miscarriage, or deliver a stillborn baby.

How is Zika spread?

In addition to acquiring the Zika virus from mosquitoes, it can also be passed from one individual to another by having unprotected sex with someone who has the virus. For this reason, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends:

  • If a pregnant woman’s significant other (sex partner) has traveled to, or lives in an area where the Zika virus is known to be present:

    • a barrier method, such as a condom should be used

OR

  •  the woman and her partner refrain (avoid) having sex until after baby is born.

Testing for Zika virus infection

If a woman is exposed to the Zika virus during pregnancy, it does not mean that her baby will be born with birth defects. The CDC recommends that all pregnant women be screened for possible exposure to the virus at every prenatal visit. All pregnant women that may have been exposed to the virus should be tested, even if they have no symptoms.

  • The virus can be detected by both blood and urine samples.
  • Regardless of the results of testing, all women that have been tested due to possible exposure to the virus should have an ultrasound to monitor her baby for signs of Zika virus infection. The amount and timing of the ultrasounds is a decision that will be made by the woman and her physician.
  • The exact timing of ultrasound findings suggesting that baby has been affected is unknown. If a mother is infected early in her pregnancy, ultrasound findings of infection in her baby may be present by her 18th week of pregnancy.

At this point, there is no specific treatment for the Zika virus other than rest and treating the symptoms of fever and joint pain.

 

 

 

Lockwood, C., Romero, S., & Nielsen-Saines, K. (2017). Zika virus infection: Evaluation and

management of pregnant women. UpToDate. Retrieved from https://www.

uptodate.com

Oduyebo, T., Igbinosa, I., Petersen, E., Polen, K., Pillai, S., Ailes, E., Villanueva, J., Newsome, K.,

Fischer, M., Gupta, P., Powers, A., Lampe, M., Hills, S., Arnold, K., Rose, L., Shapiro-

Mendoza, C., Beard, C., Munoz, J., Rao, C., Meaney-Delman, D., Jamieson, D., & Honein,

  1. (2016). Update: Interim guidance for health care providers caring for pregnant

women with possible Zika virus exposure – United States, July, 2016. Morbidity and

Mortality Weekly Report, 65(29), 739-744. Retrieved from https://www-cdc-

gov./zika/pdfs/uszpr_toolkit_ob.pdf