The Zika virus is spread mainly through the bite of a mosquito that has already been infected. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that some of the most common symptoms of Zika are a rash, fever, pain in the joints, and red eyes. Some people may also explain a head ache or pain in the muscles. However, it is important to note that many infected people may not experience any symptoms at all or very mild ones that can go unnoticed. Symptoms can last from a few days to an entire week. A blood or urine test can confirm a diagnosis of the Zika virus. The virus is usually present in the blood stream for about a week so if you are experiencing symptoms or recently traveled to an area known to have Zika, see your healthcare provider, especially if you are pregnant.
Why are pregnant women considered a high risk population?
The Zika virus can be particularly alarming for pregnant women because it can cause birth defects in the baby. Additionally, there is still a lot of unknown variables when it comes to the Zika virus and pregnancy. For example, experts do not know what the chances of having a baby with birth defects are if you do get infected while pregnant or if you are more likely to have issues if you get infected during your third trimester. Pregnant women can pass the Zika virus on to her unborn baby through their shared blood supply. There have been no reports of babies being infected by breast feeding.
What birth defects are associated with the Zika virus?
There are several birth defects thought to be associated with the Zika virus. These defects are generally placed together under the umbrella term of congenital Zika syndrome. This syndrome does not necessarily affect all pregnancies, but researchers are unsure why.
Microcephaly is the most common birth defect caused by a Zika infected pregnancy. This disorder is characterized by an unusually small head which can have an affect on the baby's brain development. Depending on how severe the microcephaly is, babies with this defect may experience developmental or intellectual delays, movement and balance problems, feeding problems, as well as hearing and vision issues.
Babies exposed to Zika who do not have microcephaly may still experience various cognitive defects and developmental delays, as well as vision and hearing difficulties. Some research supports the theory that there may be a link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which is a rare disorder where a person's immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system, and Zika. However, there is not a definitive link. Be sure to talk to your medical provider if you receive a positive Zika diagnosis.
Is there any way to prevent the Zika virus?
Currently, there is no medication or vaccine that can cure or prevent the Zika virus. The best way to protect you and your fetus from the virus is to limit your exposure. The most important thing a pregnant woman can do is avoid traveling to any areas where there is a Zika virus outbreak or where there is expected to be one. Women who are not yet pregnant, but are trying to conceive, should also avoid traveling to these particular areas.
Additional measures you can take to protect yourself from the Zika virus center around avoiding mosquito bites, particularly from the Aedes species, which is a known Zika carrier. To avoid mosquito bites, limit your time outdoors, wear long sleeves, use insect repellent, and avoid standing water. Also, be sure to avoid having unprotected sex with anyone who may have been exposed to the Zika virus. Use these important tips to protect you and your baby from Zika and keep you safe and healthy!