The latest Zika news: pregnant women still need to take precautions

microcephalyJust when you may have thought that Zika was a thing of the past, a new report provides a wake-up call.

Here are the facts:

  • Last year in the United States, 1,300 pregnant women were infected with the Zika virus.
  • The virus was reported in pregnant women in 44 states; most of these women became infected as a result of travel to an area with Zika.
  • Of women with confirmed Zika evidence during pregnancy, 1 in 10 gave birth to a baby with birth defects.
  • Confirmed infections in the first trimester posed the highest risk – with about 15% of the babies having Zika-related birth defects.
  • Only 1 in 4 babies with possible congenital Zika syndrome were reported to have received brain imaging after birth.

What we know

If a pregnant woman becomes infected with Zika, the virus can pass to her baby.

Zika virus during pregnancy can cause damage to the baby’s brain, microcephaly (smaller than expected head) and congenital Zika syndrome, which includes eye defects, hearing loss, and limb defects.

Zika virus during pregnancy has also been linked to miscarriage and stillbirth.

What we don’t know

A very troubling aspect of this virus is that we don’t know the long-term effects it has on babies.

Dr. Siobhan Dolan, OB/GYN and medical advisor to the March of Dimes says “We don’t yet know the full range of disabilities in babies infected with Zika virus. Even babies who don’t have obvious signs of birth defects still may be affected.”

Care for babies

The report emphasizes that babies born to moms who have laboratory evidence of Zika virus during pregnancy will need additional medical monitoring and care after they are born. They should receive a comprehensive newborn physical exam, hearing screen, and brain imaging. Follow-up care with specialists is extremely important, as the full extent of congenital Zika virus on babies is not known.

Dr. Dolan emphasizes “Babies should receive brain imaging and other testing after birth to make a correct diagnosis, and to help us understand how these babies grow and develop.”

If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, how can you protect yourself and your developing baby from the Zika virus?

Avoid Zika exposure.

The most common way Zika spreads is through mosquito bites, but it can also spread through unprotected sex, blood transfusions or lab exposure.

  • Do not travel to a Zika-affected area unless you absolutely have to. If you must travel, talk to your health care provider first, and take precautions to prevent mosquito bites.
  • Don’t have sex with a partner who may be infected with the virus or has recently travelled to a Zika-affected area.
  • If you live in an area where Zika is present, take precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

Bottom line

Prevent infection to protect your baby.

Dr. Dolan puts it in perspective: “Protect yourself from Zika before and during pregnancy, and that includes avoiding travel to affected areas. But remember — it’s not forever. Yes, you may miss a family event now, while you’re pregnant. But after the baby is born, in a few months, you’ll be able to travel safely and with peace of mind.”

Our website has detailed information on Zika and pregnancy, microcephaly and congenital Zika syndrome.

Stay tuned to learn about the Zika Care Connect website coming soon.

Have Questions? Text or email AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

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