Everything a Pregnant Woman Needs to Know About the Zika Virus

Everything you need to know about the mysterious mosquito-born illness that's sweeping the globe—and how it affects you (and your babymoon) as a pregnant woman.

How the Zika Virus Affects Pregnant Women Boiarkina Marina/Shutterstock

Even though it's not extremely serious for most people, the Zika virus could pose serious problems for women and their fetuses if a pregnant woman is bitten. The illness has been linked to a birth defect called microcephaly, which can lead to incomplete brain development and a small head—it may also cause serious vision abnormalities. A recent study from Yale identified a link between Zika and the development of glaucoma as well.

There's been a 20-fold increase in Brazilian babies born with microcephaly since the virus first appeared in Brazil. The surge in cases of microcephaly is becoming so major in Brazil, health officials have warned women to avoid becoming pregnant. Over the course of 2016, a number of countries worldwide warned against pregnancy, including Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica, American Samoa, Costa Rica, Curacao, Nicaragua, Aruba, Bonaire, Trinidad and Tobago, The Marshall Islands, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, Sint Maarten New Caledonia, Cuba, Dominica, Kosrae, Fiji, Saint Lucia, Belize, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Grenada, and Argentina.

Here's everything you need to know about the Zika virus.

Where the virus is

If you're with child, you're advised to avoid traveling to these areas: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Guyana, Cape Verde, Samoa, US Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic.

If you've traveled to an affected area, you should get tested for the virus at between 2 and 12 weeks of travel. The U.S. FDA authorized an Emergency Use Authorization for a diagnostic tool meant to detect antibodies in the blood that can identify the virus.

Outbreaks of Zika have been reported in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands—but there's cause for concern in the United States as well. There was a confirmed case of the illness in Texas, two pregnant women were infected in Illinois and recent research warns of Zika's potential to spread within the Americas. Parts of Florida, including the Miami area, were found to have outbreaks.

We've also learned of a few confirmed cases of the virus in the United States. There was a reported case in California, but the victim has recovered. There have also been cases in Virginia, New York City, Arkansas and Pennsylvania.

How you contract Zika

The Zika virus is transmitted via a certain type of mosquito from the Aedes species. These mosquitoes also spread dengue fever and the chikungunya virus.The mosquitos can become infected if they bit someone who carries the virus, at which they point they can pass it to someone else.

There is a possibility that mothers can pass the virus to their babies—if a mom is infected at the time of delivery, there is a small chance she can transmit it to her infant and the possibility of a pregnant woman passing the virus to a fetus is being investigated. There was one case of possible transmission via sexual intercourse.

On February 21, researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health announced a new finding: They observed the virus's effect on mice and found that, while a woman's placenta usually works to keep infenctions away from their babies, Zika has the power to pass through the barrier. Researcers also found that babies born after Zika exposure may have thinner brain tissue or inflammation. The good news? This finding may help scientists develop a course of treatment that could keep Zika from crossing the placenta and affecting the baby.

The symptoms

According to the CDC, about one in five people who are infected with the virus become ill and symptoms commonly include fever, rash, red eyes, muscle pain and headaches. The symptoms generally last for a few days to a week.

Treatment

There is no vaccine or medication available to treat Zika. Those who are infected should get plenty of rest, drink fluids and take pain-relieving medicine—if infected, you should also do your best to avoid mosquito bites for the first week of the illness.

Here's what you should do

The major takeaway from all this? It should go without saying that you should heed the CDC's advice and stay away from the areas mentioned above. If you must travel to a place where you're likely to find mosquitoes, take appropriate precautions: Use insect repellant, wear long sleeves and pants, opt for the air conditioning if available and use window/door screens whenever possible.

Related: Mission Babymoon: The 411 on Safe Travel During Pregnancy

Data curated by HealthGrove

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