For pregnant women, news of the Zika virus in the United States can be a scary thing. First appearing in Uganda in 1947, the virus is strongly connected with birth defects that cause an abnormally underdeveloped head and brain in infants. For expecting mothers, it’s important to stay informed on how the virus is spread and how to prevent it.
How it is spread: The Zika virus is spread two main ways: through Zika-infected mosquito bites and sexual contact from a person who is infected with the Zika virus. For pregnant women expecting to be out in an area with high exposure to mosquitoes, use an insect repellant, wear clothes that cover your skin and stay in screened-in areas when possible. Also, avoid sexual contact with anyone who has been in an area where the Zika virus is prevalent.
How it is diagnosed: There are currently few tests for Zika; however, if you’ve recently come back from an outbreak area and are exhibiting symptoms, your doctor may suggest getting tested through a state or local health department. A doctor will want to know your recent travel history and whether or not you’ve been in contact with someone who has visited a high-outbreak area. You will also be asked if you’re experiencing typical symptoms of the virus, such as fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes.
How it affects your pregnancy: Pregnant women who develop the Zika virus are likely to give birth to babies with small heads and incomplete brain development. This defect, called microcephaly, causes facial distortions, developmental disabilities, short stature, difficulties with balance and coordination, speech problems and seizures.
If you are pregnant and are worried you’ve developed the Zika virus, contact your OB/GYN immediately to determine further evaluation and treatment.