The World Health Organization declared the outbreak of Zika virus, which began in May in Brazil, an international public health emergency earlier this month. The Centers for Disease Control recommends pregnant women use caution when traveling in the Caribbean and Latin America due to a possible link between Zika, which can be passed from mother to baby, and microcephaly.
Babies with microcephaly have smaller heads, and their brains may not fully develop in utero. The link between microcephaly and Zika virus is being investigated. Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes and had been mostly contained to the Eastern Hemisphere. The outbreak in Brazil has spread to 20 countries including the United States where 87 cases have been confirmed in six states. Patients in the United States had all recently returned from traveling outside the U.S.
Eighty percent of people infected with Zika don’t have symptoms. Infected individuals who do not show symptoms may potentially transmit the disease. A small number of infected people suffer from mild symptoms with no lasting issues. Symptoms may include fever, rash, red eyes and headache and last for several days to one week.
The CDC warns pregnant women to postpone traveling to areas where Zika is spreading, or if they must travel, taking precautions. Precautionary tactics include: use insect repellent, cover exposed skin, avoid wooded areas and sleep in a screened room. Pregnant women who have been in an area where Zika is prevalent should contact a healthcare provider even if they aren’t showing symptoms.
“One could make a case that pregnant women or those attempting to become pregnant avoid travel to areas where Zika virus is active until more is learned about risks, but this is not a panic situation,” Dr. Mark Dowell of Rocky Mountain Infectious Disease said. “The virus appears to be sexually transmitted as well. Open communication with healthcare providers about recent travel and activities is important. Seek a medical opinion for any significant characteristics of acute illness which develops upon returning from a Zika-virus active area.”