Since late January 2016, the Zika virus has made headlines in the United States.
The illness itself is not especially serious – though widespread, it induces fairly mild symptoms, lasting about a week and then disappearing, and only presenting in 20% of those affected by the virus. The people who should be most concerned are women who are pregnant and those who are trying to become pregnant, and have some connection to the affected geographic regions.
What is Zika?
The Zika virus is typically spread by Aedes mosquitos (the same type which carry yellow fever and chikungunye), but recently it’s been discovered to be transmitted sexually and through blood transfusion. Men who have potentially contracted the virus should use condoms so as not to spread disease sexually.
One in five affected people develop symptoms, which go away in about one week.
Where is it?
Zika virus appeared to originate in Brazil in May 2015, but it had been present in Africa and Asia as early as the 1950s. It has spread by mosquito transmission through South and Central America, and some Caribbean and Pacific Islands. You can view the CDC map of afflicted countries here.
How it affects people
Four out of five people who contract Zika will not present any symptoms, or they will be mild. The incubation period is up to twelve days, and symptoms resolve within a week. There are no reported deaths due to Zika virus.
- Joint and muscle pain
- Eye redness
Though it has not yet been proven, Zika is thought to cause Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis in patients of all ages. There are increasing reports of studies that attempt to prove a connection. One early conclusion about the connection is that people who do not show symptoms of Zika virus may be at lower risk for developing Guillain-Barre.
Zika Virus: Effect on pregnant women
The effects on pregnant women and those who become pregnant are far more significant. Women who are pregnant and contract Zika and women who become pregnant while the virus is in their systems may see Zika affect babies in the form of microcephaly – a condition that produces smaller head with brains that have not developed normally.
Many countries where Zika is rampant are urging women and couples not to get pregnant in the near future. El Salvador, for instance, asks women to wait until 2018 to become pregnant.
Zika in the United States
There have been several cases reported in the United States, most of which were either acquired while traveling or acquired through sexual transmission from a partner who had recently traveled to affected regions.
Officials say that 20% of people afflicted with Zika show symptoms. That’s it! And there are now reports of more than 250 people who have contracted the illness, 18 of them pregnant women, mostly affecting California, New York, Texas and Florida. Most of these people with Zika appear to have contracted the illness during travels in Central America, South America and the Caribbean, while cases in Oregon and Texas seem to be sexually transmitted.
The CDC reports nine confirmed cases of Zika in pregnant women in the United States: two terminated their pregnancies, two had miscarriages, two bore healthy children, and one’s baby was born with severe microcephaly. The remaining two women are still pregnant and testing shows they carry healthy babies. All nine women had reported showing symptoms of Zika virus.
This map from the CDC shows states that have reported cases of Zika, by transmission through sex or travel, as well as locally acquired cases.
What it means for your fertility treatment
Women looking to get pregnant are urged not to travel to affected countries in the two months prior to getting pregnant as well as during pregnancy. If a partner must travel to these at-risk areas, it is best to use condoms following return, so as not to transmit Zika through sexual intercourse. There do not appear to be any long term effects of the Zika virus once it leaves the bloodstream a few weeks after infection, and the CDC recommends waiting 8 weeks after exposure to Zika to get pregnant, but if you’ve shown symptoms of the virus, wait 8 weeks before the onset of symptoms.
The link between Zika and mocrocephaly is strongly suggested, but not yet scientifically proven. If Zika does in fact cause microcephaly, it is not known if any stage of pregnancy is safe from exposure. In other words, it is not known if there is any stage of pregnancy in which contracting this virus does not affect fetal growth and development.
If you are already pregnant and traveled to one of the known affected regions, contact your doctor immediately to get tested for Zika as soon as possible.
How to avoid it
You can avoid Zika by taking precautions against mosquito bites, especially during the daytime. Be mindful of travel, especially to Central and South America. If your male partner has traveled to an affected region, use condoms during sex to prevent transmission through semen.
Wear long sleeves as much as possible to reduce exposure to mosquitoes, and use EPA-registered bug sprays to repel insects.
For the most up to date information on Zika virus in the United States, visit the CDC webpage for Zika here.