By now you’ve probably heard of the Zika virus. If you’re pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant it’s likely to have come up when talking to your doctor. Great news – the virus has been more contained, and there has been a significant drop in new cases over the last years. The World Health Organization (WHO) lifted the “Public health emergency of international concern” designation last year. Texas and Florida remain the only states that have had local outbreaks in the U.S. (i.e. they are the only places where the virus has been transmitted locally versus being brought into the country by travelers). Florida’s travel advisory has been lifted, and Brownsville, TX is the only area in the U.S. with a current travel advisory. The epidemic, however, is not over, so here is a brief summary of what you should know.
What is Zika virus?
Though Zika infection is very unlikely to cause severe illness for the majority of people who catch it, during pregnancy it can cause a birth defect in the brain called microcephaly and other severe brain defects. It is also linked to miscarriage and stillbirth. Zika virus is transmitted by mosquito bites and unprotected intercourse. The majority of people infected with Zika don’t have any symptoms, but the most common symptoms of Zika virus are red eyes, fever, joint pain, and rash. These usually resolve in two to seven days, and one becomes immune to future infection once they’ve had the virus.
How bad is the problem?
From 2015-2018 there have been 2,418 pregnant women with diagnosed Zika virus in the United States, and 112 babies born with Zika-associated birth defects.
To put this in perspective, there have been at least 9 million cases of influenza this year, even with the flu vaccine.
Where is Zika now?
Most cases of the recent Zika outbreak that began in 2015 have been in Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands.
Take a look at the Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s Interactive world map here.
What do I need to know if I am currently pregnant?
The CDC recommends that pregnant women not travel to areas with risk of Zika virus. If you have traveled to one of these areas then you may be tested for Zika (see below). If you must travel to one of these areas then you should take action to avoid mosquito bites.
What do I need to know if I am thinking about becoming pregnant? How long do I need to wait if I’ve traveled to an area with Zika virus?
There is no treatment for Zika virus, so prevention is key. Men who have traveled to an area with a travel advisory for Zika should wait at least 6 months before trying to get pregnant, as the virus can live in semen longer than other body fluids. Women should wait at least 8 weeks after travel, if only she was potentially exposed.
Should I get tested for Zika?
Testing is recommended in the following situations, within 12 weeks of exposure:
- Anyone with possible Zika exposure (living in, traveling to, or having unprotected intercourse with someone who traveled to an area with a Zika virus travel advisory)
- Symptomatic pregnant women with possible Zika exposure
- Asymptomatic pregnant women with ongoing Zika virus exposure
- Pregnant women with possible exposure whose fetus has ultrasonographic findings consistent with congenital Zika virus infection
Testing may be considered for asymptomatic women with recent possible exposure to Zika. It is not recommended for non-pregnant asymptomatic women, men, or for preconception screening.
Where can I get more information?
Dr. Meredith Kapner
Obstetrics and Gynecology
Dr. Kapner attended Tufts University, where she received a Bachelor's degree in Community Health and Art History. She completed her medical degree at The George Washington University, graduating with distinction. Among her many commendations, Dr. Kapner received The Recognition of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology Award during her residency at The George Washington University in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Dr. Kapner holds office hours in our Silver Spring office.