Zika and Travel: What Pregnant Women Need to Know in the US
CDC issues new warning for couples planning to have a child
Recent cases of Zika virus are prompting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to, for the first time, warn people about traveling to an area within the continental United States.
So far, 15 people in Florida were found to have been infected with Zika virus after being bitten by local mosquitoes. Miami health officials believe mosquitoes spread the virus, most likely by biting a person who had returned to the United States with the disease.
Since four out of five people with Zika have no symptoms, it’s possible that this person had no idea he or she was infectious, CDC officials say. This is why the CDC is urging travelers to Zika-infected areas to take precautions against getting bitten by mosquitoes while there and to use insect repellent for at least three weeks after they return.
The CDC now is advising pregnant women to not travel to one northside neighborhood of Miami where a number of residents have been infected with Zika by local mosquitoes.
Other CDC recommendations for pregnant women and their partners in light of the Miami Zika cases include:
- Pregnant women and their partners who live in or plan to travel to this area should follow steps to prevent mosquito bites.
- Women and men who live in or traveled to this area any time after June 15 and who have a pregnant sex partner should use condoms or other barriers to prevent infection every time they have sex during the pregnancy.
- All pregnant women in the United States should be assessed for possible Zika virus exposure during each prenatal care visit.
- Pregnant women who live in or frequently travel to this area should be tested in the first and second trimester of pregnancy.
- Pregnant women with possible Zika exposure and signs or symptoms of Zika should be tested for Zika.
- Pregnant women who traveled to or had unprotected sex with a partner that traveled to or lives in this area should talk to their healthcare provider and should be tested for Zika.
For couples who are thinking about getting pregnant, the CDC advises:
- If you have Zika, women should wait at least eight weeks and men should wait at least six months after symptoms began to try to get pregnant.
- Women and men who live in or frequently travel to infected areas should talk to their health care provider.
- Women and men who traveled to infected areas should wait at least eight weeks before trying to get pregnant.
Be extra cautious
Obstetrician/gynecologist Oluwatosin Goje, MD, says that women who are pregnant or planning to start a family need to be extra cautious before traveling anywhere where the Zika virus is in circulation.
“If you need to go to Miami County and you’re considering starting a family, you should speak to your health care provider first; and if you’re pregnant and can avoid traveling, that would be better,” Dr. Goje says.
While Zika virus is transmitted primarily by mosquito bites, it also can be sexually transmitted, Dr. Goje says.
After much research, doctors now know that the virus can cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which a baby’s head and brain are smaller and underdeveloped.
Dr. Goje said that Zika virus also has been linked to other complications in newborns such as eye defects, hearing loss and impaired growth.
If you’ve already traveled
Dr. Goje said it’s important for those who have traveled to areas where Zika virus is present to be aware of any potential symptoms of illness, including headaches, bone pain, fever or rash.
Eighty percent of people who are infected won’t show symptoms, and for those who do have symptoms, they are often mild, so it’s important not to dismiss them.
Dr. Goje says that if a pregnant woman or her partner has traveled to any of the Zika-affected areas, she should either abstain from sex or use condoms consistently and correctly for the duration of the pregnancy as a precaution.
“If you travel to a Zika area and you’re pregnant, please reach out to your primary care or ob/gyn and they will offer you testing and ultrasound as needed,” Dr. Goje says. “If your partner is symptomatic, we also have the opportunity to test symptomatic men to make sure that they are well cared-for.”