If you’re pregnant, trying to conceive – or even thinking about conceiving in the near future – the Zika Virus is likely to be a concern for you – particularly if you are planning a trip to, or have recently been to one of the countries affected.
The Zika Virus came to attention last May when it emerged that thousands of babies in South America and Brazil were being born with severe birth defects – most notable in their unusually small heads and brains – after their mothers became infected during pregnancy.
Spread by mosquito, cases have since emerged in nearly three dozen countries and, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the virus is likely to spread further. It is thus essential that women arm themselves with information and up-to-date knowledge before considering travel to one of the affected countries.
Until recently, Zika was a little known disease confined largely to sub–tropical Africa. It has now spread to much of northern South America, Cape Verde, parts of the Caribbean and western Pacific Islands.
Why is it dangerous?
There is evidence that suggests the virus can cause a condition known as Microcephaly, which is a serious birth defect believed to be caused by below normal brain development of the baby in the womb. It causes lifelong physical and developmental problems for babies born with it.
How is it transmitted? How can risk be reduced?
Just like malaria, mosquitos carry the virus. However, there is no vaccine for protection against it and the only way to avoid it is to take scrupulous precautions against being bitten. All bare skin needs to be protected by anti-insect spray or cream containing DEET and should be covered up as much as possible. If sunscreen is being used, this should be put on first and then anti-insect spray or cream. The mosquito that carries the virus is particularly active during the day, dawn and dusk.
What are the symptoms?
Most people infected with the Zika Virus have no symptoms. For those where symptoms do occur, they are usually mild and last for around 2-7 days. The symptoms can include fever, headache, red eyes, rash, muscle and joint pain.
Pregnant women who have recently travelled to a country where active Zika transmission is reported should notify their GP, obstetrician or midwife. A pregnant woman who develops signs of the Zika Virus, either during or within two weeks of travel to one of the affected countries, must seek medical attention so that tests for the Zika Virus can be carried out and appropriate scans and follow ups organised.
Is it safe for women who are planning to conceive in the next couple of years to travel to the affected areas?
Public Health England has advised that British couples should not try for a baby for a month if a partner has just returned from one of the countries affected by the Zika Virus. In these cases, men are advised to wear condoms for 28 days after coming home if their partner is at risk of pregnancy, or already pregnant. If a man has experienced unexplained fever whilst travelling, or has been diagnosed with the virus, he should avoid unprotected sex, or trying for a baby for six months.
Emma’s Dairy is the UK’s most trusted, influential pregnancy programme offering credible pregnancy and post-natal advice. www.emmasdiary.co.uk