What to know about the Zika virus if you are or want to become pregnant

 10 facts about the Zika virus

The relatively unknown Zika virus become famous overnight. By now, most people will have heard of it unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past weeks. There is so much information about it at the moment, that I didn’t really know what to believe anymore. So here are some facts about Zika from reliable sources:

1. How do you get it?

The Zika virus is transmitted by daytime-active Aedes mosquitoes (these good-for-nothing critters also spread West Nile, dengue, and yellow feverand dengue). There have also been cases where the Zika virus had been spread through blood transfusions or sexual contact. There have not been any cases of the Zika virus that were spread through breastfeeding (allthough this is still not something that should be ruled out altogether as a woman can have open wounds on the nipples while breastfeeding). The virus is not airborn though: i.e. it can not be spread by coughing or sneezing.

2. How long does it take before you get it?

The incubation period is about 3-12 days.

3. What places can you attract it?

The CDC published a list of countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission on their website.

zika virus

Normally Brazil gets several hundred cases a year, but since October 2015, health officials have documented more than 3,500 cases.

4. Danger for pregnancy

The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Because the vast majority of people that have Zika only have mild symptoms, in most cases people might not even know they had it. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is very uncommon. When a pregnant woman is infected with the Zika Virus however, the unborn child can be in grave danger. There are no statistics gathered on the amount of Zika infected women giving birth to babies with birth defects, but doctors have recently linked infection with the Zika virus during pregnancy to birth defects in the fetus. For example: across Brazil, where the virus is flourishing, thousands of babies have recently been born with microcephaly.

5. What is microcephaly?

Babies with microcephaly have abnormally small heads and in most cases incomplete brain development.

microcephalyIn about 15% of the cases, babies with microcephaly only have a small head and there is no further effect on the infants brain development, according to Dr. Constantine Stratakis, a pediatric geneticist and a scientific director at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

But for the other 85% of the cases, infants may experience a range of problems, like developmental delays, intellectual deficits or loss of hearing.

According to Dr. Hannah M. Tully, a neurologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital who specializes in brain malformations, there is no treatment for microcephaly at present.

6. Does it matter at what stage of pregnancy the Zika virus is attracted?

Earlier in pregnancy seems to be more dangerous. Experts do not know how the virus enters the placenta and damages the growing brain of the fetus.

7. How long to wait to get pregnant after contracting the Zika virus?

The virus will not cause defects to a baby conceived after the virus has been cleared from the blood. While this virus should have left the blood stream a within a week, Dutch doctors are advising a one-year cool-off period to be safe!

8. How do I know if I’ve been infected? Is there a test?

It’s often a silent infection, and hard to diagnose. To detect the Zika virus, a blood or tissue sample from the first week of the infection must be sent to a lab so the virus can be detected through sophisticated molecular testing.

9. No cure/vaccine

Currently, there is no vaccine or medication to prevent or cure Zika infection. The only way to avoid catching it is to avoid getting bitten by covering up or by covering yourself in insect repellent.

10. Insect repellent while pregnant?

It is safe to use insect repellent whilst pregnant or breastfeeding (make sure to use an EPA-registered repellent).

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