What You Need To Know About Zika If You’re Trying To Get Pregnant2018-12-07T15:16:30-07:00

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What You Need To Know About Zika If You’re Trying To Get Pregnant

I’m a gynecologist specializing in fertility for the past 16 years. The No. 1 question I hear these days, whether it’s from patients or women I meet at parties, is: “I’m trying to get pregnant. Will that mosquito bite I got in the Hamptons give me Zika?”

The short answer is: probably not.

But here’s what women (and men) should know about Zika and pregnancy.

Right now, Zika is not locally transmitted in the vast majority of the United States.

Last week, a small part of Miami, FL became the first region in the continental United States to report cases of locally acquired Zika.

So, if you’ve been bitten by a mosquito in New York City, the mid-Atlantic states, or New England, for instance, the likelihood of your contracting Zika is close to zero. To be on the safe side, using an EPA-approved mosquito repellent and wearing long sleeves/long pants can help minimize the risk for any mosquito bites.

The Zika virus tends to cause a fairly short-lived illness.

Two to 7 days of malaise, headaches, rash, muscle aches and conjunctivitis (pink eye). Most individuals infected by the Zika virus don’t experience any symptoms. The big problem, as most of us now know, arises when a pregnant woman falls victim to the virus. This can lead to dire complications such as miscarriage and preterm delivery, as well as children being affected by microcephaly. Microcephalyis a condition when the brain and skull are markedly smaller than normal, and the decreased brain size may lead to serious physical handicaps while increasing the risk of early infant/childhood death.

If you’re trying to get pregnant and do not live in a Zika-active area…

Women trying to get pregnant should avoid travel to Zika-active areas (the CDC regularly updates its map of Zika active areas. Similarly, male partners should avoid Zika areas, at least until after their female partner has a healthy delivery. In cases where a male partner absolutely must travel to a Zika-affected area, I’ve suggested that couples consider sperm freezing before the trip. This planning is particularly helpful when a woman does not or cannot delay trying to get pregnant. Otherwise, because the Zika virus has been found to remain in men’s semen several months after symptoms have passed, the male partner will need to abstain from unprotected intercourse for six months after a Zika infection. Even without any evidence of illness, men and women are advised by the CDC to delay attempts at pregnancy for at least eight weeks after returning from a Zika active area.

If you’re trying to get pregnant and do live in a Zika-active area…

Take practical precautions to minimize exposure to mosquitoes. In addition to following the above recommendations, avoid pools of stagnant water (where mosquitoes like to congregate) and try to use air conditioning and screens when indoors. If you experience any Zika-associated symptoms, report them right away to your obstetrician. If you have been diagnosed with Zika, avoid attempts at pregnancy for at least eight weeks after your illness (males are advised to wait a full six months). Also, try to avoid getting further mosquito bites in the first week of your illness in order to limit the spread of the virus.

If you’re already pregnant regardless of where you live…

For pregnant women who have male partners who’ve journeyed to a Zika-active area in the past six months, the CDC advises proper condom use for every sexual interaction throughout the pregnancy. Pregnant women who think they might have been exposed to Zika ― either due to travel to a Zika-active area or unprotected sexual relations with a partner who has journeyed to a Zika-active area ― should discuss their concerns immediately with their obstetrician. Currently, there is limited testing available through local departments of health as well as through a few commercial laboratories. Present recommendations are to test any pregnant woman at risk of Zika exposure ― whether or not she has symptoms. For those who are not pregnant, testing is limited to those who develop symptoms after returning from a Zika-active region or who develop symptoms after their sexually intimate partner has returned from a Zika-active region.

Zika is a real public health threat and can lead to heartbreaking complications. But it is crucial to not lose sight of the control women do have ― I regularly advise my patients to take daily folic acid, avoid alcohol/tobacco, and maintain a healthy weight. While these steps won’t prevent Zika infection, they are among the most important measures women can adopt to try and ensure a healthy pregnancy.

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