The Zika Virus and Pregnancy

Classified as a Flavivirus, the Zika virus is spread by infected mosquitoes in certain areas of the world. The illness is typically mild, and some people don't even realize they're infected. However, what many people don't realize is the relationship between the Zika virus and pregnancy, and how it can cause a serious fetal brain defect known as microcephaly. Another important point that needs to be understood is that women can also be infected by their partner through sexual intercourse, which is then passed on to her developing fetus.

Where Can the Zika Virus Be Found?

In the past, outbreaks of the Zika virus were reported in Southwest Asia, and Africa. However, outbreaks have now been reported in many other countries and territories. The mosquito-borne transmission has been reported in the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and experts agree that the Zika virus is continuing to spread. Although there haven't been any reported mosquito-borne Zika cases in the continental United States, tests have confirmed the virus in people returning from areas where it is common, and some people who haven't traveled got the virus through sex with a traveler.

The Zika Virus and Pregnancy

Many men are not aware that they can transmit the Zika virus on to their sex partners. Known cases of sexual transmission show that all of the male carriers had developed symptoms of the Zika virus at some point either before or after intercourse. Documented evidence shows that some men are able to transmit the disease before any Zika symptoms start, or even after they have recovered. Even more disturbing is that the Zika virus remains viable in semen longer than it does in blood. This is an alarming detail for those who are in a family planning stage of their relationship, because the Zika virus and pregnancy together can have devastating consequences.

The Zika Virus and Microcephaly

A condition called microcephaly occurs when a baby's head develops much smaller than normal. The condition is the result of abnormal brain development during pregnancy. In some cases, the baby's brain stops developing after birth, resulting in a smaller head. More heartbreaking is that severe microcephaly can result when the baby's brain correctly started to develop, and was then damaged at some point during pregnancy.

Mother to Child Transmission

Transmission of the Zika virus from mother to child can occur in one of two ways, either congenitally (a condition present at birth), or perinatal (immediately before and after birth).

  • Congenital transmission of the virus happens when an expectant mother is infected with the virus during her pregnancy, and the virus gets passed on to the baby before delivery.
  • Perinatal transmission on the other hand, occurs when an expectant mother is infected with the virus within a few weeks of delivery, to around the time of birth.

The good news is that so far, there aren't any reports of baby's acquiring the virus when breast-feeding. Mothers are encouraged to continue breast-feeding even in predominate areas where the virus is found.

Symptoms of the Zika Virus

The symptoms of the Zika virus in pregnancy are usually mild and the incubation time is not known; however, medical experts agree that symptoms can last a couple of days and up to a week. The virus typically remains in the bloodstream of an infected person for up to 7 days, but it has been known to last longer in some people. Symptoms may include:

  • ŸMuscle and joint pain
  • Skin rash
  • Fever (> 101 °F)
  • Headache(s)
  • Red eyes (Conjunctivitis)

If you're already pregnant, and you have traveled to an area known for the Zika virus, contact your health care provider if you're experiencing any of these symptoms within 2 weeks after traveling.


When the Zika virus and pregnancy happen together, it's natural to feel worried and anxious to know if anything can be done to treat and prevent it. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus disease. However, if you are traveling in areas where the Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes, recommendations include:

  • Wearing long pants and long sleeved shirts for both adults and children.
  • Using mosquito netting for the crib, baby carrier, stroller and your bed.
  • Staying in places that have air conditioning, along with windows and doors that have screens to help keep mosquitoes from getting inside.
  • Using insect repellents with one of these active ingredients: picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or DEET.
  • Treating you and your child's clothing with permethrin.

Note: If you are going to use a sunscreen, apply the sunscreen before the insect repellent.

There are also some important things you should not do, including:

  • Don't spray insect repellent on the skin underneath clothing.
  • Don't use products containing permethrin directly on skin. This is used exclusively for clothing.
  • Don't apply insect repellent onto a child's eye, hands, mouth, or irritated skin.
  • Don't use products containing para-menthane-diol or oil of lemon eucalyptus on children 3 years old or younger.
  • Don't use insect repellent on infants younger than 2 months old.

If You Do Get the Zika Virus

A urine or blood test can confirm a Zika infection, and your health care provider might order the tests to look for the Zika virus.The recommended treatment includes:

  • Getting plenty of rest.
  • Making sure you drink plenty of fluids.
  • Taking acetaminophen to reduce the fever and pain.
  • Avoiding aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce any risk of bleeding.
  • Informing your physician about any other medications you're taking.
  • If you've been diagnosed with the Zika virus, try to prevent mosquitoes from biting you during the first 7 days of the illness.
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