Is Zika virus still a risk for pregnant women?

Oct 10, 2017

Yes, there is still no vaccine, and if a pregnant mother is infected it’s far more likely her child will be born with birth defects.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that all pregnant women, and both men and women planning to conceive, avoid at-risk areas. The CDC also maintains an updated list of the countries and territories that remain at risk areas for Zika virus, which essentially includes almost all of Central and South America, central Africa and Southeast Asia.

If traveling to an at-risk area can’t be avoided, below are shortened simplified versions of the CDC’s recommendations based on your situation:

  • For a pregnant woman: Do everything possible to avoid being bitten.
  • For the partner of a pregnant woman: Avoid having sex until after the baby is born.
  • For a couple traveling together who may conceive: Avoid having sex while away and wait at least six months after returning before trying to conceive.
  • For a man traveling without his partner: Wait at least six months after returning before trying to conceive. Zika is thought to live in sperm longer than other bodily fluids.
  • For a woman of childbearing age traveling without her partner: Wait at least two months after returning before trying to conceive.

Will a child definitely have birth defects if a pregnant mother’s infected with Zika?

No. In fact, only a small percentage of pregnant mothers infected with the virus give birth to children with clear, Zika-related birth defects.

News coverage has focused on infected mothers giving birth to children with microcephaly, a brain defect in which a baby’s brain develops improperly, but there is also a long list of other serious birth defects associated with a mother contracting Zika while pregnant.

That said, while Zika dramatically increases the likelihood of these defects, Zika does not cause birth defects in the large majority of pregnant women who are infected, according to ongoing studies of the recent outbreaks in the Americas. About 3 percent of pregnant women who contracted Zika in the past few years gave birth to children with microcephaly. It’s unclear what percentage gave birth to children with other defects.

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