Pregnant Women

What do pregnant women need to know about the virus?

Scientists believe that the Zika virus causes miscarriages and microcephaly, a birth defect in which infants are born with unusually small heads and often have corresponding brain damage.

How might Zika cause brain damage in infants?

It’s not entirely known, but other infections during pregnancy—the classically known so-called TORCH infections (Toxoplasma gondii, “other” infections such as lymphocytic choriomeningitis and syphilis, rubella, cytomegalovirus and herpes simplex virus)have also been known to cause microcephaly.

What is microcephaly?

Microcephaly is a medical condition that results in a small head because the brain has stopped growing or is not developing properly.

 

pregnant women and zika virus - microcephaly graphic

 

Why don’t we know more about the connection between Zika and microcephaly?

The association was only noticed very recently, and although intense research is ongoing, we don’t have definitive answers yet.

What areas should pregnant women avoid?

The CDC has advised pregnant women to avoid travel to areas that have local transmission of the Zika virus, but some high-altitude places (those 6,500 feet above sea level or higher) within affected countries may present minimal risk.

I’m pregnant and live in or recently visited an area with Zika virus. What do I do?

Consult with your health care provider to determine possible next steps, which may include tests for the virus and close monitoring of both you and your unborn baby. The CDC advises considering testing at least once per trimester for women with ongoing possible exposure to Zika. The Texas Department of State Health Services recommends testing for all pregnant women living in nine Texas counties: Cameron, Hidalgo, Kinney, Maverick, Starr, Val Verde, Webb, Willacy and Zapata.

 

pregnant women and zika virus - testing process

 

I’m not pregnant, but planning to go to an affected area. Is that okay?

If you’re sure you’re not pregnant, then you should feel free to visit affected areas as long as you take appropriate measures against mosquito bites. However, please keep in mind that half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and if you’re planning to visit an area where the Zika virus is endemic, birth control is even more important than usual, both before your trip and for six months after your return. If your male partner has visited an affected area, you should practice safe sex measures for six months after his return before trying to become pregnant.

Does it make any difference what trimester the mother is infected?

Some evidence exists that there is a greater risk when the mother is infected during the first trimester. As many women don’t realize they’re pregnant until halfway through this time, it is extremely important for anyone who even might be pregnant to take sensible precautions to the virus.

Can women with Zika breastfeed their babies?

The Zika virus has been detected in human breast milk, but it is currently unknown if the virus is transmissible via this route. The position of the World Health Organization is that due to the great benefits of breastfeeding, women should not refrain due to Zika.

Should women who plan to spend time in endemic areas postpone pregnancy?

That is a personal choice that each woman should make in consultation with her physician. The CDC recommends that because Zika tests can be unreliable, women considering pregnancy who live in or may travel to areas with endemic Zika should consider getting a blood test for Zika antibodies before becoming pregnant to get a baseline reading. Women who do decide to postpone pregnancy should know that condoms help prevent pregnancy and also help protect against sexually transmitted diseases, including Zika.

Should infants be tested?

The CDC recommends testing the infants of women who spent time in areas with endemic Zika virus during their pregnancy only if the infant has microcephaly or the mother has a positive or inconclusive test results for Zika.

If my child does have microcephaly, what should I do?

Schedule appointments with a clinical geneticist, a pediatric neurologist and a pediatric infectious disease specialist. These health care providers will probably conduct numerous tests, including a complete blood count, platelet count and liver function tests to check for any additional congenital anomalies and make a plan for continuing care. Ophthalmologic evaluation is recommended as well as repeat hearing screen at six months of age. Continued evaluation of developmental characteristics and milestones, including head circumference, is recommended through the first year of life.