7 Things Pregnant Women Need to Know About Zika Virus


Lorna Collier

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5. Zika virus symptoms are typically mild, if experienced at all.

Only 20% of people infected with the Zika virus will experience symptoms. These include low-grade fever, joint pain, headache, rash and conjunctivitis (pink eye), which last a few days to a week. Symptoms typically begin 2 to 7 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

The rare cases of babies with microcephaly are obviously very serious, but in most patients the virus doesn’t cause illness severe enough to require hospitalization, and deaths are very rare.

6.  Commercial testing for the Zika virus is in its early stages.

In May 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first commercial test to detect the Zika virus in people. Previously, doctors had to send blood samples to state health labs or to the CDC to be tested. The approval helps doctors diagnose the disease faster and provides a first step for more widespread commercial testing.

In July 2016, the CDC formally advised that all pregnant women who show symptoms of Zika or who have had possible exposure to the virus—either through travel to Zika-affected areas or sexual contact with a partner who may be infected—be tested so doctors can address any risk of birth defects.

7.  No targeted treatments are available.

No vaccine yet exists to prevent Zika, nor is there an antiviral medication that can combat the virus.

Patients with Zika virus are given treatments to relieve their symptoms, such as acetaminophen to ease fever and pain. (Aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, should be avoided because they may cause bleeding.)

If you are pregnant and have been diagnosed with the Zika virus, your doctor will monitor your baby’s development with frequent ultrasounds. You may be referred to a maternal-fetal specialist or an infectious disease specialist with expertise in pregnancy management.

8.  If traveling to Zika-affected areas, avoid mosquitoes.

If you live in or must travel to areas affected by the Zika virus and you’re pregnant, it’s very important to prevent contact with mosquitoes. Some things you can do to protect yourself and your unborn baby are:

  • Stay in places with air conditioning or where windows and doors are screened. If that’s not possible, use an insecticide-treated mosquito net when sleeping. (Advice on the type of bed nets to use can be found on the CDC website.)

  • Wear insect repellent made from EPA-registered ingredients and reapply every few hours. Repellents containing ingredients such as DEET and picaridin are considered safe during pregnancy.

  • If you are using sunscreen, put the sunscreen on first, then cover with repellent.

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks and hats. Because mosquitoes can bite through fabric, put EPA-approved insect repellent on the fabric, too, such as one containing permethrin.

  • Stay inside when mosquitoes are most active, such as at dawn and dusk.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jun 1, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Zika Virus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html
  2. Zika Virus. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/zika/en/
  3. Interim Guidelines for Pregnant Women During a Zika Virus Outbreak — United States, 2016. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6502e1er.htm
  4. Monitoramento Dos Casos de Microcefalia no Brasil. Brazil Ministry of Health. http://portalsaude.saude.gov.br/images/pdf/2016/janeiro/21/COES-Microcefalias---Informe-Epidemiol--g...
  5. Effects of Disasters on Pregnant Women: Environmental Exposur