Update on Zika And the Link to Pregnant Women

The Zika virus continues to be a headline in the news, and we are continuing to learn more about the effects it has on our bodies — particularly for pregnant women.

We recently spoke to our Grantees in both Haiti and Guatemala (two countries listed in Zika’s “hot zone”) who are working around the clock to help protect pregnant women and educate them about the outbreak. From what we know, the virus is primarily transmitted through the bites of infected mosquitoes found in several countries. While most people who contract the disease won’t develop symptoms, the babies of infected pregnant women appear to be at high risk for developing severe and untreatable birth defects. New information is emerging daily and this week we learned that isolated cases of Zika have been diagnosed in the U.S. and that mosquito bites aren’t the only mode of transmission. The virus has been isolated in semen samples and can be transmitted sexually.

Here are the precautions the CDC is currently recommending for pregnant women, women trying to become pregnant and their sexual partners:

  • Pregnant women should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare professional first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip. Until we know more, if your male sexual partner has traveled to or lives in an area with active Zika virus transmission, you should abstain from sex or use condoms the right way every time you have vaginal, anal, and oral sex for the duration of the pregnancy.
  • Women trying to become pregnant should consult with their healthcare professional before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during the trip.

Heidi Flagg, MD is an Ob-Gyn in New York, and a member of EMC’s medical advisory board. We asked her how seriously people should take the CDC’s recommendations. Her response:

“I wish I felt more optimistic, but the doctors in my practice have been getting daily (sometimes twice daily) updates from NYU Langone Medical Center and the CDC about the virus, how it is spreading and how we should guide our patients. So far, the daily news trend seems to be getting worse, not better and unfortunately, I think that this point, we’re only experiencing the tip of the iceberg. Zika virus has been isolated in semen and I know of 2–3 cases (the most recent in Houston) where it was transmitted sexually. The most unsettling fact is there’s no treatment or remedy for microcephaly (the serious birth defect that’s been linked to the Zika virus). It’s my general opinion that if you’re pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, traveling to an affected area is simply not worth the risk or worry.”

We’ll keep you posted as we learn more about Zika.

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