Zika Virus Poses Health Risk to Pregnant Women

The updates on the Zika virus and its suspected impact on pregnant women and their babies are being released every day as the situation is now considered a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

Recent reports of the virus showing up in Brazil have steadily expanded through the Americas and into the United States, with the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirming it can be transmitted sexually as well as through mosquito bites and from mother to unborn baby. The CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) have issued travel notices to those traveling to South and Central American countries where Zika virus is most prevalent.

Although it has not been scientifically proven, it is highly suspected by the World Health Organization that the Zika virus is tied to miscarriages, stillbirths, and cases of microcephaly. Microcephaly is an abnormal smallness of the fetal head, a condition which can lead to learning disabilities, limited motor skills and severe neurological impairment affecting vision and hearing.

Pedro Roca, MD, MPH, FACOG, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist with ProMedica Physicians, said it is difficult to say at this point what the impact of the virus will be in Northwest Ohio. The Aedes mosquito that carries the virus is not currently found in the region.

Still, with a confirmed case of the virus being sexually transmitted from a man who traveled to Venezuela to his partner (who did not leave the country), there are concerns that the virus will spread throughout America. Currently, more than 30 cases of Zika virus have been reported in the United States.

“Pregnancy is a state of decreased immunological response,” Dr. Roca said. “Therefore, most communicable diseases will affect the pregnant mother and immune-compromised people more than others. Unborn babies of exposed mothers seem to have a higher risk of certain conditions.”

Dr. Roca reiterated the CDC’s suggestions for pregnant patients: consider postponing travel to affected areas; if traveling to those areas, wear long sleeves and pants, use insect repellent and stay inside in a screen-protected, air-conditioned room.

“We do not have a specific treatment for Zika virus,” Dr. Roca said. “In general, only 20 percent of people exposed will develop symptoms, but 100 percent of people exposed will be carriers for two weeks. Therefore, if they are bitten by a particular mosquito, then the mosquito may infect others. As there is not treatment for this condition, the best medicine is prevention of exposure.”

For more information, please visit the CDC and WHO

Learn more about pregnancy and infant health through our Preparation for Parenthood series.