Due to a large outbreak, the Zika virus has been in the news recently for its link to brain abnormalities in newborns, including microcephaly which is a smaller head size. Zika is a virus that can be spread through the bite of an infected mosquito or sexual contact from an infected partner. Most people do not even realize they have been infected since symptoms are usually mild and mimic the flu. Because of the established link between the Zika virus infecting pregnant women and microcephaly, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a public health emergency.
One thing known for sure about Zika is that the virus can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her unborn child. What is still being researched include the effects of the virus on the unborn baby and when in the pregnancy would the unborn child be at risk. It is important to know there are other causes of microcephaly, so a pregnant woman should consult her physician. Other birth defects that have been noticed in infants infected with Zika include underdeveloped brain structures, eyes, and hearing.
The current guidelines to protect pregnant women center around preventing transmission of Zika virus. Pregnant women should avoid travel to areas with Zika. If travel is unavoidable, they should talk with their healthcare provider prior to leaving and take precautions against mosquito bites, such as wearing long-sleeved clothing, staying in air-conditioned areas that use barriers to prevent mosquito entrance, using EPA-registered insect repellants (which are safe to use during pregnancy and while breast feeding), and treating clothing with permetherin. Other actions taken could include the use of a bed net and the use of standing water tablets that will kill mosquito larvae around areas where they reside.
As of April 8, 2016, there are no known locally acquired cases of Zika virus in the United States. There have been reported cases of Zika but these are associated with people traveling back from areas that are actively transmitting Zika, such as all of Central America, most of the Caribbean, and most of South America. In the state of California, there have been 29 reported cases of travel-associated Zika. There is an expectation that it will eventually be transmitted locally as the mosquitoes that transmit Zika are in the environment, and yes that does include Southern California!
Since my family and I are planning to have another child, information about Zika and the potential risks involved are very personal to me. Based on the latest evidence, be sure to avoid travel to endemic areas of Zika if you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant in the future; speak with your healthcare provider if there are concerns or questions about Zika and pregnancy; and use mosquito precautions.
For the most up to date information concerning Zika virus, please visit the Center for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov.
Dr. Marcelino Latina, Chino Valley Family Physicians