Zika Virus and Pregnancy
By Dr. Natalie Vanek, MD, Infectious Disease
The Houston area made the news last summer for having the most reported cases of confirmed Zika virus in the Texas area, 27 cases, including eight Legacy patients. This year, so far there have been 11 confirmed cases. Although Zika isn’t making headlines like it did last year, women trying to get pregnant and pregnant women should take the Zika threat seriously.
Pregnant women, or couples trying to conceive, must be especially careful when outdoors, as mosquito-season is here. Certain kinds of mosquitos carry the Zika virus, which is dangerous for the unborn child. The virus, when passed from mother to fetus, can cause microcephaly or severe birth defects. There is no vaccine against Zika virus, nor is there medicine to treat it.
How it Spreads
Zika virus is primarily spread to people through mosquito bites, but can be spread in other ways. In pregnancy, it can spread from mother to child as well as through blood transfusions and sexual contact. Zika can spread through sex with a partner who has the virus, even if the person does not have symptoms at the time. If you aren’t pregnant but have concerns because your partner has been to a Zika-affected region, you can use condoms or abstain. More information is available here.
Most people infected with the virus have mild or no symptoms. For those who do develop symptoms, illness is generally mild and typically lasts a few days to a week. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). There is a test available if you suspect you have been infected.
Avoid getting bit by mosquitos. Use bug spray with DEET, which is safe for pregnant and nursing women (check the label and follow the directions carefully). Starting May 1, Texas began providing this year’s statewide Medicaid benefit for mosquito repellent to prevent Zika virus transmission. Some boys and men will be eligible to receive the benefit, as well as women ages 45 to 55. Eligible recipients can pick up mosquito repellent at participating pharmacies without needing a prescription.
Other ways to avoid mosquito bites include:
- Wear long pants, not shorts, and shirts with long sleeves when possible,
- Rid your yard of any standing water where mosquitos breed,
- Use window screens and doors to keep mosquitos out of your home, and
- Cover trash cans or containers where water can collect.
If pregnant, be cautious about traveling to Zika hotspots in Latin America or to Brownsville, Texas and South Florida, where local transmission of the virus has occurred.
There is no way to predict how and if Zika will affect an individual. But the risks are real and should not be discounted or ignored.