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Frequently Asked Questions about Zika and Pregnancy

Author: Dr. Reuter

What is Zika virus and how do you catch it?

Zika virus is a mosquito transmitted virus that usually causes a mild illness.

Zika virus is transmitted primarily through the bite of mosquitos; specifically by the species Aedes aegypti mosquitoes.  Theses mosquitos are aggressive daytime bitters that are found in many parts of the world in warm climates.  These mosquitos have not been found in the Pacific Northwest.  The only recorded infections in a climate that is similar to the Northwest has only been identified in return travelers.

Other routes of transmission include perinatal (passing the disease from mother to baby) and sexual transmission.  However, it is unknown at this time if either a male or female that is asymptomatic can transmit the virus to their partner(s).

What affect does Zika virus have on a pregnancy?

In April of 2016, the CDC reported that the virus can have significant affects to an unborn fetus.  Most notably these affects include microcephaly (small head), absent or poorly developed brain structures, defects of the eye and impaired/abnormal growth.  Pregnant women can be infected with Zika virus in any trimester, but there is no evidence to suggest that pregnant women are more susceptible or likely to get the virus.

How can I protect myself from getting the Zika virus?

Because there is neither a vaccine nor preventive medications available to prevent Zika virus infection, the CDC recommends that all pregnant women (or those planning to become pregnant) consider postponing travel to areas where the Zika virus transmission is ongoing.

Can Zika virus be treated?

No specific antiviral treatment is available for the Zika virus disease.  Treatment is generally supportive and should include rest, fluids, and use of pain and fever reducing medications (Tylenol).

What should I do if I think I have Zika virus and I am pregnant?

Most people, greater than 80% of persons affected by the virus, are asymptomatic.  The symptoms are usually mild and characterized by acute onset of fever, bumpy skin rash, arthralgia and myalgia (sore joints and muscles), conjunctivitis (itchy and inflamed eyes).  Symptoms usually last from several days to one week.  Several other viruses and illnesses can present in a similar fashion so these symptoms are not conclusive for Zika.

If you think you have Zika virus infection you should talk with your doctor and consider being tested.

For symptomatic patients, testing is recommended within 2-12 weeks of travel and is prioritized to travelers returning from affected areas.  There is no commercial or over-the-counter testing available for the Zika virus.  The only test available is through the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).  But, local physicians can order and arrange for the testing if appropriate.

Can you screen for Zika virus in pregnancy?

At this time, it is not recommended to screen  for Zika virus in asymptomatic pregnant women in the setting of a healthy pregnancy.

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