Written by Dr. Elaine Herer, a Deputy Chief of Sunnybrook's Obstetrics and Gynecology department.
It's one of the hottest topics when I'm meeting with my pregnant patients: the Zika virus. Sometimes my patients are planning a 'babymoon' holiday to the Caribbean. Or they've traveled to a country with a Zika travel warning just before they were pregnant, and they're worried.
Here's what we know so far. The Zika virus is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito. It is passed from person-to-person through sexual contact, blood transfusion and mom-to-baby. If a pregnant woman is exposed to the Zika virus through one of these ways, we don't know how likely she is to get Zika. And if she is infected, we don't know how the virus will affect her or her pregnancy.
We do know there is a link between Zika and microcephaly, a condition that is associated with incomplete brain development and abnormal smallness of a baby's head. We also that know the risk for microcephaly and other congenital abnormalities appears to be highest if Zika virus infection occurs in the first trimester of pregnancy. However, neonatal brain abnormalities have also been detected even if Zika virus infection occurred later in the pregnancy.
Currently, there is no vaccine or treatment for the Zika virus.
That is a lot of "if's", so here's what I'm telling my patients that are currently pregnant:
1. Don't travel to an area with Zika.
Until we know more, it's safe to say you should avoid travel to an area with Zika. If you absolutely must travel to an area where Zika is present, take steps to prevent being bitten by a mosquito. These include wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, staying in accommodations that have air conditioning and screens to keep mosquitos outside, and wearing insect repellant (it's safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women). It's also important to stay away from any containers with standing water, as they are popular mosquito breeding grounds.
2. Practice safe sex if there's a chance your partner was exposed.
If your partner lives in an area with Zika, or has traveled to an area where Zika is present, use a condom to reduce the chance of getting Zika from sex (vaginal, anal and oral sex, and the sharing of sex toys). To be effective, it's important to use condoms from start to finish, each and every time during vaginal, anal and oral sex.
3. What if...:
If you think that you or your partner may have been exposed to the Zika virus, speak with your obstetrician or midwife. Make a list of any symptoms, you and/or your partner's travel history, and whether you had sex without a condom if your partner was in an area with Zika.
If you're not pregnant, but are hoping to become pregnant in the near future, here is the most up-to-date medical advice for those who have traveled to an area with Zika, or had sex without a condom with a partner possibly infected with Zika:
1. If you have, or have had, Zika symptoms (fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes during your trip or within two weeks after traveling to an area with Zika): Wait at least eight weeks after your symptoms start to try and get pregnant. If you suspect your partner had Zika, the current recommendations are to wait at least six months after his symptoms start.
2. If you haven't had any Zika symptoms: Still wait at least eight weeks after travel or exposure to Zika through sexual contact. For your partner, the guidelines suggest waiting eight weeks as well.
There is a lot of work, clinically and research-wise, taking place into better understanding the Zika virus and infection. If you have any concerns or questions, speak with a member of your health care team.
Read more pregnancy information from Sunnybrook experts at health.sunnybrook.ca
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