Zika Virus in Pregnancy
Zika virus can affect pregnant women as well as babies. This virus can cause serious birth defects in babies. This article explains all about the Zika virus and how it affects a pregnant woman and her fetus.
What Is Zika Virus?
Zika virus spreads through infected mosquitoes. It is an RNA flavivirus, which is a group of viruses that have insect vectors and causes diseases like dengue, malaria, yellow fever, and hepatitis C. Zika can spread from the bite of an infected ‘Aedes albo Aedes aegypti’ or pictus mosquito. The disease is actually mild and most people who get infected recover completely without any complications.
Why Is It Dangerous?
Zika is dangerous as it can infect a pregnant woman and cause serious birth defects in the unborn baby. Zika causes microcephaly in the fetus, a condition characterized by an unusually small head and underdeveloped brain. It can also cause other neurological problems in the baby of an infected mother, such as hearing loss, vision problems, defective growth, seizures, and epilepsy.
How Does Zika Virus Spread?
Here are the ways in which the Zika virus can spread from one person to another:
1. Mosquito Bites
This is the most common way how Zika virus spreads. When a mosquito infected with Zika bites a person, that person becomes infected with the virus. The mosquito ends up with the virus by biting an infected person and then passes it on to others when it bites them. The pathogen is present in the bloodstream for at least a week after becoming infected.
2. From Mother to Unborn baby
A mother can pass on the virus to her unborn baby. It has the capability to travel through the placenta and affect the baby in the womb.
3. Sexual Transmission
Zika can be transmitted by having sex with an infected individual through virus-infected body fluids like semen, vaginal fluids, and menstrual blood.
4. From Infected Blood, Body Fluids, and Tissues
In a hospital, you may come across infected tissue or blood. If you have a blood transfusion from an infected person, you could contract Zika.
Signs and Symptoms of Zika
Symptoms of Zika are comparatively mild and only one out of five infected people actually display any symptoms. Here are a few common signs of a Zika infection:
- A headache
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Conjunctivitis (also called pink-eye)
- Redness in the whites of the eyes
Diagnosis and Tests for Zika When Pregnant
A doctor can confirm a Zika virus based on testing a blood or urine sample. The test may give negative results, which do not necessarily mean you are in the clear. Zika lingers in the body months after being infected. Doctors order three different tests to make absolutely sure that it is a Zika infection.
What If the Test Is Positive?
If the test is positive, and you are pregnant, the doctor will recommend an amniocentesis to determine if the baby has been infected by the Zika virus. You may also have to undergo ultrasound tests every 3-4 weeks to check the baby for signs of microcephaly and abnormal calcium deposits in the skull.
What If the Test Is Negative?
If the test is negative, it may not mean that you do not have the Zika virus. Hence, the doctor may do an ultrasound to check for signs of microcephaly and calcium deposits in the skull. If there are no such signs, you will not need any further testing. If there are signs of microcephaly and calcium, the doctor may retest for Zika and do an amniocentesis just to check if the baby has been infected.
What Is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?
Guillain-Barré syndrome or GBS is a condition that affects the nervous system. It is a disorder that causes inflammation in the peripheral nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. It causes paralysis and weakness in the limbs. It can also affect muscles that help us breathe. These symptoms can last a couple of weeks to several months. People with GBS usually recover fully. However, some are affected by lasting nerve damage.
How Is It Related to Zika Virus?
People infected with a zika virus are at an increased risk of developing GBS. Most people with GBS have reported an infection before they experience the symptoms of GBS. GBS is related to Zika as a significant proportion of people infected by the Zika virus develop GBS.
Can It Affect Your Pregnancy?
GBS is rare in pregnancy. However, if a mom-to-be develops GBS, it can be potentially lethal. It can cause serious never damage to the mother and also be fatal for the baby. Affected mothers have to be closely watched for symptoms of respiratory failure and problems with the autonomous nervous system which controls breathing, heartbeat, and digestion.
Treatment for Zika Virus
Zika virus does not have a vaccine, cure, or treatment. Only the symptoms of the zika infection can be managed and treated. Infected people should rest, stay hydrated, and take pain relief medication. Infected people should also avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes for the first two weeks of illness. This is because they can spread the disease to other people through mosquito bites.
How Long Does Zika Last in Your Body?
According to research, it takes six months for the Zika virus to be completely eliminated from your body. Once you get infected by Zika, your body will develop immunity against the virus, which means you cannot get infected once again. However, there is inconclusive evidence to show how long this immunity lasts. Once the virus has gone from your body, there is no risk of birth defects in future pregnancies.
Zika virus can be prevented if you adopt the following methods:
- If you are trying to conceive or are pregnant, avoid visiting Zika affected areas. If you travel to an infected area, talk to your doctor about all the precautions you need to take. Once you return, get tested for a Zika infection.
- Zika can be sexually transmitted. So, avoid multiple partners and always use contraceptives like condoms.
- Protect yourself from getting bitten by mosquitoes. Use repellents and expose as little skin as possible to avoid mosquito bites.
- If you need to get a blood transfusion, make sure the blood is tested for the Zika virus.
- If you work in the healthcare industry, follow workplace safety precautions. Wear gloves, glasses, and a mask. Do not come into direct contact with infected body fluids.
- If you are planning to conceive via IVF through donated sperm, make sure that the sperm has been tested for the Zika virus or that the donor is not infected.
How to Protect Yourself From Mosquito Bites
The best method of preventing a Zika virus infection is by avoiding mosquito bites. You can avoid mosquitoes bites by following these tips:
1. Use Mosquito Repellent
Apply mosquito repellent on your skin before you go out. In the house, use mosquito repellent plug-ins. There are several repellents available in the markets that are safe for pregnant women.
2. Wear Clothes With Long Sleeves
Wear long-sleeved clothes, pants, and socks. Expose your skin as little as possible. There should be no room for mosquitoes to bite you. You can also get mosquito repellent treated clothes in the market.
3. Avoid Wooded Areas and Mosquito-Infested Outdoors
Avoid going outdoors when there are mosquitoes, like at sunset or after that. Also, avoid going to the wooded areas or mosquito-infested areas in the dark.
4. Use Air Conditioners
Air conditioning deters mosquitoes. So, sleep in an air-conditioned room.
5. Use a Mosquito Net
You can also use a mosquito net to prevent getting bitten by mosquitoes while you sleep.
6. Avoid Going to the Areas Affected by Zika
Do not travel to Zika-affected areas. Regions like Brazil, Central America, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, and some parts of India are affected by the Zika virus. Do not travel to these places. Of course, in pregnancy, you would avoid traveling as much as you can, but even if you do, then visit someplace which is free of mosquitoes.
7. Keep Your House and Neighbourhood Clean
Do not use water from open sources, such as storage buckets, as mosquitoes breed in water. Make sure that the drains are covered well to prevent mosquitoes from spreading.
Here are the answers to some of the important frequently asked questions about the Zika virus:
1. Can Zika Virus Cause Microcephaly or Other Birth Defects?
Yes, the Zika virus affects the fetus as the virus is able to cross the placental barrier and enter the baby’s body. It causes microcephaly, characterised by a very small head and underdeveloped brain. It can also cause other birth defects like problems with hearing and sight, growth retardation, and epileptic seizures.
2. Is There Any Vaccine for Zika Virus?
There is no cure if you get infected by the Zika virus. Only the symptoms of the Zika infections can be treated and managed. The symptoms are usually mild, but there can be occasional complications like Guillain-Barré syndrome, partial paralysis, and permanent nerve damage.
3. What Do I Need to Know If I Have Lived or Travelled to a Zika Affected Area?
If you have travelled to a Zika affected area, you need to get tested for Zika infection. If your test turns out to be positive, you need to treat the symptoms and avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes for at least 2 weeks to prevent the disease from being spread. You also need to abstain from sex for at least 6 months to avoid transmitting the virus sexually. If you are pregnant, your baby will need to be tested for Zika and monitored closely for signs of microcephaly and birth defects.
3. What If My Partner Has Travelled to a Place Where There Is an Outbreak?
If your partner has travelled to an area with a Zika outbreak, he or she needs to get tested for infection immediately after returning. You should avoid sexual contact with the partner until it has been proven that he or she is not infected. You should also make sure that both of you avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes as this is the main way Zika spreads from person to person.
4. Are All Babies Tested for Zika Infection at Birth?
All babies in Zika-infected areas are tested for Zika at birth. Babies of parents who have been infected by Zika are also tested at birth for Zika infection. Babies may also be tested for Zika if they show symptoms of congenital Zika syndrome. If your baby exhibits no symptoms of Zika, but the tests show that you were infected during pregnancy, then the baby will be tested for Zika infection at birth.
5. Can You Breastfeed If You Are Infected with Zika during Pregnancy?
You can breastfeed your baby if you are infected with Zika during pregnancy. The Zika virus is present in breast milk. However, there is no evidence of babies getting infected from breast milk.
Zika virus is a mosquito-borne disease that is very dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn babies as it causes serious birth defects. It is best to follow the tips in this article to prevent Zika infection during pregnancy.
Also Read: Chikungunya Virus Infection During Pregnancy