Sunday, August 20th, 2017

Ask a Doc: Zika Virus & Pregnancy

by Tara Gallasch, MD

My husband and I were just married any we spent our honeymoon in Mexico.   We were hoping to get pregnant right away but I just learned Mexico is an area that has the Zika virus.   While on vacation we both had a few mosquito bites  but neither of us every felt sick in any way.  Can you please explain what Zika is?  Is it safe for us to become pregnant now?

Congratulations on your marriage!  During the summer of 2015 Zika virus was first reported in South America.  The Zika virus is spread to humans through the bites of the Aedes mosquito.   It can then be spread through sexual contact and from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby.   After getting a bite from a Zika infected mosquito a person may develop a fever, rash, joint aches, and pink eye.  Only 1 in 5 patients will have these symptoms – most people will either have no symptoms or very mild symptoms.

Infection with Zika virus during pregnancy carries a 1 in 10 risk of birth defects.  Unfortunately these birth defects can be very severe and include brain abnormalities like microcephaly (small brain/head), vision problems, hearing problems, and even defects in the arms and legs.  The best way to prevent this is for women and men who want to get pregnant to avoid traveling to areas where Zika is present.  As the areas where Zika is have changed overtime it is a good idea to check the cdc website to know where the virus is present.

If travel cannot be avoided or for those people that live in these areas steps should be made to avoid mosquito bites.  Insect repellents that contain DEET are the most effective and are safe during pregnancy.  Wearing long sleeves and pants can help.   Unlike the most common mosquitos in upstate NY who are most active in the evening, the mosquito that carries Zika is active during the day. 

I asked Dr. Esha Behl, a perinatalogist with Rochester Regional Health, for advice about your case.  She stated that due to your ‘recent travel to Mexico and mosquito bites you are at risk of being exposed to Zika even though you did not have symptoms.  The best way to ensure you do not have a baby affected by Zika is to use contraception for the next 6 months to prevent a pregnancy’.   If you are already pregnant then to prevent a possible exposure from your husband you should use condoms with sexual activity for the next six months.  Additionally you should talk to your OB provider about your travel history.  Guidelines about testing pregnant women for Zika have continued to evolve since the outbreak.  Your OB provider can help coordinate any testing, ultrasounds or further care that you may need.