Conception, Pregnancy and the Zika Virus

Hannah Cline's picture
By Hannah Cline on June 27, 2016

With temperatures on the rise and mosquito season ramping up, many mothers have expressed concern about the Zika virus–some are even putting off having another child until more is known about the virus.

“Much of the concern has been due to Zika’s  association with a rise of microcephaly birth defect cases, which is characterized by a malformed or smaller head and brain and can result in serious developmental delays,” explained Allison Durica, M.D., a specialist in maternal fetal medicine and director of Carilion Clinic’s Outpatient High Risk Clinic. “Problems stemming from the deformity may include seizures, developmental delays, hearing loss and vision problems.”

The virus is spread to people mainly through mosquito bites. However, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the virus can be spread through blood transfusion and sexual contact as well.

The symptoms are generally mild, consisting of a fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, and only last from a few days to a week. In fact, only one in five people will even exhibit any symptoms at all, so many people do not know that they have contracted the virus.

The CDC recently released new travel and prevention guidelines to avoid the contraction and spread of the disease.

New guidelines urge avoiding travel to countries where there is a high risk of contracting the Zika virus. Countries that should be avoided according to the CDC include: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Somoa, Suriname, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Venezuela.

For a complete list visit the CDC page for Zika travel information.

“I would strongly advise that women who are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant heed the advice of the CDC and not visit any of the affected countries,” said Dr. Durica. 

The projected exposure area to mosquitos that may carry the virus includes Roanoke once we get into the later summer months, however, the greatest risk for infection is in the southern and coastal regions.

“In our area, no new cases of Zika virus have been reported,” said Dr. Durica. “Of the existing cases, none of them have contracted the virus here in Roanoke; these are all patients who have been infected while traveling to endemic areas.”

There is no current vaccine, treatment or cure for Zika, so if you are in an affected area, avoiding exposure to mosquitoes is your best bet.

CDC guidelines urge pregnant women, women who intend to become pregnant, as well as their partners to take protective measures to avoid mosquito bites. Protective measures include avoiding the outdoors when mosquitos are in high concentration, such as during the day and at dusk, wearing long-sleeves and long pants when outdoors and using a bug repellent that contains DEET. The CDC also suggests that women wait at least eight weeks before becoming pregnant if they have traveled to an endemic area and show symptoms of or have been diagnosed with Zika virus.

As the virus can be present longer in semen, it is suggested that if your male partner has traveled to an endemic area and shows symptoms of or has been diagnosed with the virus, you should wait at least 6 months before becoming pregnant.  

“Many pregnancies are unintended, so when you are traveling during the season, be alert to the fact that you may have become exposed,” said Dr. Durica, “You want to prevent any unintended pregnancy in the time span provided by the CDC guidelines after you come back.”

If you are pregnant, please let your physician know if you have traveled to any of the affected countries. For more information, talk to your health care provider.