The magnitude of risk of Zika virus to infected women and their infants is not very clear. The uncertainty is a big scare to women who are planning to have a baby or are already pregnant.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Pregnant women get infected by Zika virus through the bite of a mosquito which is infected. It is not apparent how the virus is transmitted between people. Zika virus may remain concealed in sperm, saliva, breast milk and urine but scientists don’t know yet if these fluids can transmit and infection.
- Most people infected by the Zika virus never develop symptoms. This is a huge concern since infected women who don’t feel sick can still pass the virus to their babies. In some cases, the infected shows symptoms like fever, joint pain, rash and red-eye.
- According to a study done in Colombia, there is a high risk to infants is if the mother is infected during the early stages of the pregnancy.
- According to the study, women who are infected with the virus during the late stages of pregnancy give birth to children who manifest no apparent birth defects. The study also showed that risk of birth defects is highest in infected women who never realized that they had the virus during their pregnancy.
- Most severe birth defect of an infant born to an infected mother is a small brain skull (microcephaly) since the brain is not developed properly. Scientists found Zika virus genome in the brain tissue of a fetus that had a severely damaged brain.
- Other possible birth defects include hearing loss, impaired growth, and eye problems. The study for potential health problems is still ongoing.
- Pregnant women can avoid catching the infection by avoiding travel to places with active Zika virus transmission. For those in affected regions, use of insect repellent and wearing loose clothes that cover the legs and arms can reduce the risk of infection.
- If you have to travel, you have to wait at least one week after you are back before you start trying to conceive. Waiting for some time is recommended because the infections seem to clear out of the woman’s body after a week. If you are already expecting, you should talk to a health professional on the safety of your pregnancy.
- The centers for disease control and prevention recommend that couples trying to get pregnant should visit their health care provider so as to get tested for the virus.
Prior to birth, problems such as hearing impairment, defects of vision and impaired growth have been detected among fetuses and infants with Zika virus. Although pregnant women infected by Zika are likely to have a baby with microcephaly, there are several other severe fetal brain defects and multiple birth defects in addition to microcephaly. Hopefully, as the study on Zika progresses, researchers will be able to better understand the extent of Zika virus’ impact on mothers and their children.
Maggie Martin is completing her PhD in Cell Biology, works as a lab tech for Mybiosource.com. She contributes content on Biotech, Life Sciences, and Viral Outbreaks. Follow on Twitter @MaggieBiosource