What should I know about the Zika virus if I want to have a baby?
Last week, Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, “It is now proven that Zika virus is linked to a broad array of birth defects throughout a long period of pregnancy, including premature birth, and smaller brain size (microcephaly).”
Microcephaly has been in the news a lot regarding Zika because it can be a very serious condition. The baby’s head is smaller because the brain does not develop properly. This can result in developmental delays, intellectual disability, problems with movement and balance, difficulty swallowing, hearing loss and vision problems.
The vector species of mosquito (Aedes) that carries Zika can also carry dengue, the yellow fever and Chikungunya virus. Endemic areas include South America (mainly Brazil), Central America, the West Indies and French Polynesia. The CDC provides a map of countries and territories with the active Zika virus.
Only 1 in 4 people infected with Zika virus are believed to develop symptoms such as a low-grade fever, rash, pink eye and arthritis. If a person contracts the Zika virus, the symptoms can show within three days after arrival to a Zika active country or up to 14 days after departing the area. Laboratory diagnosis of the presence of the Zika virus is best accomplished by blood test.
The CDC has issued “Level 2 Practice Enhanced Precautions” recommendations for certain areas, urging those pregnant or seeking to become pregnant to avoid travel to those areas, or use enhanced prevention and follow-up activities if such travel cannot be avoided.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) is issuing a warning to couples contemplating pregnancy after returning from endemic countries. Even if neither partner recalls being bitten by mosquitoes and neither has had Zika virus symptoms, it is recommended to use condoms and they should wait eight weeks after the last date of exposure to attempt conception.
Men with Zika virus disease (documented by symptoms and/or serologic testing) should wait at least six months after symptom onset to make any attempt of reproduction. Women who had Zika virus disease should wait at least eight weeks after symptom onset to plan conception.
In our practice, we recommend that if you are planning to get pregnant soon, are already pregnant, or are an egg or sperm donor, that you avoid traveling to these destinations until the virus can be controlled.