Friday, January 15th, 2016

Question and Answers: Zika and Pregnancy

PAHO/WHO has released updated information on the Zika Virus and pregnancy.

How does Zika virus affect pregnant women and fetuses?
Pregnant women have the same risk as the rest of the population of being infected with Zika virus, which is transmitted by the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes. Many women may remain unaware they have the virus, as they may not develop any symptoms. Only one in four people infected with Zika develops symptoms, and in those with symptoms the illness is usually mild.
The most common symptoms are slight fever and exantema, or rash. Zika also can cause conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, and general malaise, which begins 2 to 7 days after the bite of an infected mosquito.
Research is being done to determine what effects Zika can have on fetuses. On 28 November 2015, the Ministry of Health of Brazil established a relationship between an increase in cases of microcephaly in newborns and Zika virus infections in the country’s northeast. According to a preliminary analysis of research carried out by Brazilian authorities, the greatest risk of microcephaly and malformations appears to be associated with infection during the first trimester of pregnancy. Health authorities, with support from PAHO and other agencies, are conducting research to clarify the cause, risk factors, and consequences of microcephaly.

Is there a treatment for Zika?
There is no vaccine or specific treatment for Zika virus infection. Therefore, treatment for everyone, including pregnant women, is directed at alleviating symptoms.
PAHO/WHO urges women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to seek prenatal care to receive information and monitoring of their pregnancy and to follow their doctors’ recommendations.

What does PAHO recommend for pregnant women living in areas where Zika virus is circulating?
Everyone, including pregnant women and women of childbearing age, should avoid exposure to mosquito bites, for example, by wearing long sleeves and long pants, using insecticide-treated mosquito nets and using insect repellents indicated by health authorities and according to the instructions on the label. In every home and its surroundings, it is very important to identify and eliminate potential mosquito breeding sites.

Should pregnant women travel to areas where Zika is circulating?
Before traveling, pregnant women should consult a doctor to get advice in this regard. The most important thing is to avoid mosquito bites to prevent infection with Zika, dengue or chikungunya. In this respect, pregnant women and women of reproductive age should follow the same recommendations as all travelers:

  • Protect skin from exposure to mosquitoes by wearing long sleeves, long pants and hats
  • Use mosquito repellent as indicated by health authorities and according to instructions on the label
  • If you sleep during the day, protect yourself with insecticide-treated mosquito netting
  • Identify and eliminate possible mosquito breeding sites.
    Pregnant women who travel to areas where Zika virus is circulating should mention this during their prenatal check-ups.
  • Read more on Zika Virus and Pregnancy on paho.org