How Worried Should Moms Be About the Zika Virus?
The Zika virus is in the news and could be causing severe birth defects in unborn babies…it is carried by mosquitoes in certain tropical countries.
There has been much in the news about the Zika virus over the last couple of weeks. I know many Moms have had questions, they wonder if the virus will be an issue in the United States and if potential travel plans need to be changed. As with many scary health topics, it is sometimes difficult to weed through the information that is in the news and find what the actual truth is. I am sure that over the next weeks and probably months, more information will be gathered about this virus and more accurate information will be made available to us all. Our best resource right now is the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). I have gathered some of the information from that site to help parents understand what this virus is, its risks, and what we should be concerned about right now.
First and most important, the Zika virus only affects an unborn baby who is exposed to the virus in utero. This means a Mom must be infected with the virus when she is pregnant. Women who are not pregnant and are infected with the Zika virus will not infect their future babies once the virus has cleared their body (usually within a week). So women who are pregnant should be most concerned about this virus and should consider where they will be traveling while pregnant. The Zika virus is dangerous to an unborn baby during any trimester of pregnancy…first, second and third trimester. This virus is thought to cause serious birth defects in unborn babies, especially in neurologic development. There is a connection with this virus and microcephaly. This is a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than average. Microcephaly often means a baby has a smaller brain that has not developed as usual.
The Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes infected with the virus. The particular species that carries this disease is the Aedes mosquito. The illness is actually very mild with only about 20% of people even knowing they have been infected. The symptoms that are most common are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis; which is red, infected eyes. The symptoms usually begin from 2 to 7 days after an infected mosquito bites someone. Because only 20% of those infected actually have symptoms, 80% never know they have been exposed. So traveling to a country that has an outbreak of Zika virus and never feeling ill doesn’t mean you were not exposed to the illness! So a pregnant mom who feels well after traveling to one of these countries could still have contracted the virus and spread it to her unborn baby. There is no medication or vaccine to prevent the illness.
So where is this virus now? As of January 31st the CDC has listed the following areas with outbreaks:
Countries with active Zika virus transmissions:
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- French Guiana
- Puerto Rico
- Saint Martin
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- Cape Verde
This information is very fluid and will change I am sure. It is possible that this virus can travel to the United States in the future, but there is no virus activity at this time in the U. S.
So, if you are pregnant and planning a trip to any of these areas should you go? In my opinion, I would not take the chance. Until we understand more about this virus, the CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant moms and women trying to become pregnant. The CDC advises that pregnant women, in any trimester of the pregnancy, should consider changing travel plans to the area where there is known Zika virus outbreaks. If a pregnant woman does travel to these areas, she should have talk with her health care provider and be sure to follow steps to avoid mosquito bites. Women who are trying to become pregnant or could become pregnant during a trip should also take precautions to prevent mosquito bites when traveling to these areas. Many airlines and cruise lines are working with pregnant women who want to change their travel plans after this travel advisory was issued.
If you must travel to the infected areas, how do you prevent the Zika virus? The only prevention is preventing mosquito bites. The CDC suggests the following:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. All EPA-registered insect repellents are evaluated for effectiveness.
- Always follow the product label instructions.
- Reapply insect repellent as directed.
- Do not spray repellent on the skin under clothing.
- If you are also using sunscreen, apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.
- If you have a baby or child:
- Do not use insect repellent on babies younger than 2 months of age.
- Dress your child in clothing that covers arms and legs, or
- Cover crib, stroller, and baby carrier with mosquito netting.
- Do not apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth, and cut or irritated skin.
- Adults: Spray insect repellent onto your hands and then apply to a child’s face.
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated items.
- Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. See product information to learn how long the protection will last.
- If treating items yourself, follow the product instructions carefully.
- Do NOT use permethrin products directly on skin. They are intended to treat clothing.
- Sleep under a mosquito bed net if you are overseas or outside and are not able to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
So if you are not pregnant and want to travel to Mexico or other Caribbean countries which have Zika outbreaks…go have fun, but think about not planning a pregnancy during your trip or shortly after your return until any risk of the virus is gone. If you are pregnant and planning a trip to these areas, I would think twice…taking a chance with your precious unborn baby may not be worth sitting on that beautiful beach right now.
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.