Simple Zika virus advice for pregnant women

(WSLS) – Mosquito season is here and for women who are pregnant or want to have a baby soon, the spread of Zika virus can be cause for concern.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning that the infection can cause a devastating birth defect, something that has many women on edge. 8News sister station WSLS spoke with Dr. Allison Durica, a physician in Maternal Fetal Medicine at Carilion Clinic, to break down the facts on Zika virus and the best way expectant moms, and dads, can protect themselves.

Q: We’ve heard a lot of warnings about Zika virus and traveling out of the country, especially for pregnant women or women who want to get pregnant. What would you say to them?

Dr. Durica: If you are pregnant or are planning on becoming pregnant, if you can— avoid travel to these endemic areas where Zika outbreaks have been identified. If you cannot, then I would suggest that you try to prevent exposure to these mosquitoes and mosquito bites. You can do so by using bug spray, it is safe to use bug spray containing DEET during pregnancy. Additionally, stay covered and under screened-in areas and avoid being out at dusk and at times when mosquitoes would be in higher concentration.

These U.S. Cities are most at risk for Zika this summer.
These U.S. Cities are most at risk for Zika this summer.

Q: Here at home, what would you say to women who are already pregnant?

Dr. Durica: During the summer months and early fall, that is our peak time for these particular mosquitoes that could carry this virus to be active in our area. That would place us at a potential risk for people to be exposed to the Zika virus. If someone feels as though they have been exposed or bitten by these mosquitoes and start to show symptoms, then they would want to reach out to their OB provider and see if they meet criteria or the need for testing.

I would suggest that they do the exact same thing they would do if they were traveling abroad, and that is avoidance. Use bug spray, try to stay indoors as much as possible and try to wear clothing that covers exposed areas.

Q: Is the chance of getting Zika virus higher for pregnant women and what are the symptoms?

Dr. Durica: We don’t know that pregnant women are more susceptible to getting Zika virus or getting ill from Zika Virus. What we do know is that the incubation period is somewhere from three to 14 days. So you could’ve been exposed, bitten and not shown symptoms for up to two weeks. You need to be on the lookout for that amount of time if you have been in an area where you think you could have been exposed.

The symptoms can be mild and in many cases they are. They may include a fever, rash and muscle aches. Many people will tend to blow those kinds of symptoms off, thinking, “I’ve done too much,” or, “I might have a small virus.” If you’re pregnant and you feel as though you’ve been in an area where you may have been exposed, make sure you let your doctor know about that.

Q: If you have been exposed, is there a certain amount of time to wait to get pregnant?

Dr. Durica: We really don’t know that at this point. The information we have on ZIika virus is somewhat limited, but it’s mounting and as more and more information is gathered, the CDC is certainly making that available. At this point, we don’t really know if there’s a safe time. So what we would recommend is just being vigilant.

The CDC’s new map on regions where the main transmitter of the Zika virus has been shown to exist. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
The CDC’s new map on regions where the main transmitter of the Zika virus has been shown to exist. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Q: ZIika virus is relatively new—what problems do we see with such limited information available?

Dr. Durica: We would like to know exactly what we’re walking into. With the limited information we have with this particular virus, we’re working with the guidance from the CDC—trying to extrapolate what may be true about this virus and pregnancy, based on what we already know about similar viruses. That has been guiding a lot of the evaluation and testing processes, and so far, that is working out.

The CDC is working very hard to mount as much information as possible, put it together and feed it back to the community. We have a registry system in place, so we know the outcomes of all of these pregnancies where moms have been infected and tested positive. A lot of that comes out of South American countries, where this is an endemic issue. But it’s benefiting us, because before we get into the situation where we have a large outbreak, potentially, we have all of that information to go on.

Q: So just because you’re infected, doesn’t mean you’ll definitely have these adverse birth defects?

Dr. Durica: Exactly. So if you think you’ve been infected, the very first step would be to notify your obstetrician. If you meet criteria based on your symptoms and exposure, the testing is a blood test done through our health department and sent to the CDC. At this point, the CDC is the only location that is doing this testing. If you have tested positive, that puts us down a path to monitor the baby. That monitoring is done by ultrasound. In those cases, an ultrasound will be done to look at the basic anatomy and growth of the baby. In many cases, you would be sent to a specialty center where a more intensive ultrasound would be done of the baby’s head and brain.

If you have been exposed but don’t have any symptoms, that changes the recommended path of testing, if any testing at all. It still does bear watch with your provider. The line of communication needs to stay open with your planned travel, where you have been and any exposures you think you have had. I would try not to panic. Your providers will keep a close eye on you and follow the CDC recommendations with testing and when to test.

Q: We’ve seen a big push to protect women, but what about men?

Dr. Durica: If you are in a relationship where your wife or partner is trying to conceive or is pregnant, then you should follow the same precautions. Avoid going to these areas and avoid becoming exposed. If you are exposed or think you are, you should talk to your provider about potentially getting tested. Use a condom if you’re having intercourse because we do know that Zika Virus can be passed to your partner through semen.

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