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Pregnant Woman's Guide to The Zika Virus

Katlyn Joy |10, July 2017


Pregnant Woman's Guide to The Zika Virus

The Zika virus has dominated the news since 2015 due to the risks to babies and infants, but was first identified in 1947 when it was found in a rhesus monkey from the Zika forest in Uganda, hence the name. While the media has slowed down a bit with reporting about the dangers of contracting Zika, pregnant women still need to be concerned and take precautions when travelling to or living in affected areas, such as in Florida and Texas.

What are the Risks of Carrying the Zika Virus?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), For unborn babies and infants, the risks are particularly high. They can develop microcephaly, which simply means a smaller than normal head. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller or less functional brains. They can also have other birth defects such as growth problems, visual deficits, and hearing loss. There is also a heightened risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.

Signs and Symptoms of Zika

In pregnant and non-pregnant women, the virus generally causes either no symptoms at all, or a mild illness consisting of a fever, possibly slightly elevated temperature, and a rash, typically a few days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Some people may also experience joint pain, pink eye, or pain in the eyes, and fatigue.

How Is Zika Spread?

The most common way people get the Zika virus is through the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. This pest is also the culprit behind dengue and yellow fever. These mosquitoes are called day biters, because they mostly bite during daylight hours; although they can bite at night. They are found both indoors and outside. A mosquito can pass the virus after biting an infected person, but it will take 8 to 12 days after biting the person before infecting anyone else. People infected with Zika will carry the virus for a few days to a week after being bit.

The virus is also spread primarily through sexual contact, including oral, vaginal and anal sex. The virus can be found in a man's semen for up to three months after symptoms begin. For women, it can be transmitted through cervical mucus or menstrual blood for at least 11 days.

It is thought that Zika can be passed to a fetus via the placenta, although more research needs to be conducted to verify this hypothesis. It can also be spread by blood transfusion, or when people handle specimens in a lab setting.

How Can I Keep My Baby Safe?

The CDC recommends safe sex practices for couples – especially in high-risk areas – that have been exposed to the virus, even if only the man has been to Zika affected areas. One option to protect yourself is to abstain from all forms of sex throughout pregnancy, or by using a condom for both anal and vaginal intercourse. It is advised that couples use either a male or female condom during the entire time.

According to the CDC, the Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) in the United States stated that it is safe for pregnant women to use insect repellants that contain up to 20% DEET. Using bug spray while outdoors can help prevent becoming infected with the Zika virus as well as a host of other mosquito borne illnesses. Be sure to only use what is required, and remove it from your skin when you return inside.

Where Zika is Found Today?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), so far the only cases of Zika picked up in the United States have occurred in Florida and Texas. But US territories have also experienced a serious number of the virus transmissions, especially in Puerto Rico.

Around the globe, Zika is found throughout Central and South America, as well as Africa, India, and parts of Asia. If a pregnant woman is traveling, she should check with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Zika Map to see the latest travel advisories regarding the Zika virus. The list is comprehensive and long, so it's more expedient to check the map regularly before making any travel plans. If a pregnant woman is not traveling, but her partner is, and he is traveling to any zones affected by the virus, they will need to protect themselves.

How Do You Get Tested for Zika?

For the average pregnant woman, routine testing is not performed; however, if you live in a high-risk area, you will likely be tested. If you or your partner have traveled to a high-risk area, or you suspect you may have been exposed to the virus, your doctor will probably test your blood for the virus.

If you have symptoms, you'll likely be tested immediately, and if the tests are negative, you can expect follow up tests. Your doctor will order an ultrasound to look for any anomalies, particularly of your baby's brain. The World Health Organization recommends the use of late ultrasounds, such as in the third trimester, since brain abnormalities are easier to detect at this stage of pregnancy.

If You Have Zika: After Childbirth

If a woman is diagnosed with Zika during pregnancy, both the March of Dimes and World Health Organization (WHO) advise mothers to breastfeed their baby. Although the virus has been detected in breast milk, no cases have been traced to breastfeeding.

A child born exposed to Zika will likely be monitored for any known health risks, such as visual and hearing deficits, developmental or growth issues, and related problems. There are still many unknowns, but early intervention and regular developmental and medical screenings are recommended to give babies the best outcome possible.

Article Sources:

"Zika Virus." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Sept. 2016. Web. 09 July 2017.

"Zika Virus: Sexual Transmission & Prevention." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 May 2017. Web. 09 July 2017.

"Zika Virus Fact Sheet." World Health Organization. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 09 July 2017.

"Zika Virus and Pregnancy." March of Dimes. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 July 2017.

"Insect Repellent Use & Safety." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 31 Mar. 2015. Web. 09 July 2017.

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