Before you head off on your babymoon or to a romantic tropical location to try and conceive, make sure you know all the facts about Zika.
What is Zika?
Zika is a disease discovered in 1947 in Africa, caused by the Zika virus.
How do you get Zika?
It’s transmitted from person to person most commonly via a type of mosquito. The Aedes mosquito bites a person who has the virus and then passes it on when it bites the next person. The virus is also sexually transmitted.
If it’s been around for so long, why am I hearing so much about it now?
In February this year the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a global public health emergency due to the spread and concentration of the virus. In addition, the Summer Olympics are currently taking place in Brazil, which is experiencing an outbreak.
Is the Zika Virus dangerous?
In most cases the virus causes only a mild illness, the symptoms of which can include a headache, mild fever, slight rash, joint pain, fatigue and conjunctivitis. Some people have no symptoms at all and don’t know they have the virus.
So if the illness is so mild, why is it a problem?
It’s a serious problem for pregnant women because, while they may not be affected by the virus, the infection can be passed on to the foetus during pregnancy or at delivery.
It can then cause serious birth defects such as microcephaly, a condition where a baby’s head is smaller than expected, usually paired with a smaller brain that may not have developed properly causing developmental problems.
There have also been higher incidences of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is when the immune system attacks its own nervous system.
It’s not yet known how likely it is that a foetus carried by a woman who has the Zika virus would be affected.
How do you know if you have Zika?
A blood or urine test can confirm the presence of the Zika virus.
Is there a cure for Zika?
Sadly, there’s no medicine that can treat you or your foetus once you’ve been infected, but scientists are working on it.
I’m pregnant and going on holiday. How do I know if it’s safe?
At the time of writing (Aug 2016) the main outbreak regions are South and Central America, the Caribbean and Oceania (Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia only).
The UK is working with the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) and the WHO to keep an up to date country/territory/area risk list, so check here: www.gov.uk before you travel.
If the country risk rating is high or moderate, it’s recommended that pregnant women should postpone non-essential travel.
If you must travel, talk to your GP for up to date advice.
How can I protect myself from Zika?
A recent survey by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine found that 74% of us travel to tropical destinations without taking repellent with us.
That means we wouldn’t be protected from mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever and Zika.
Now, more than ever it’s important to take special precautions to protect yourself. If you’ve travelled to a hot country before, chances are you’ll already be aware of some of things you can do to keep mosquitoes away.
Wearing long sleeves and long trousers is a sensible precaution, but keep in mind mosquitos can bite through thin fabrics, so treat them with an fabric spray containing and insect-repellent such as permethrin, or buy specially pre-treated clothing.
Some insect repellents are safe and effective for pregnant women.
The US-based Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends using a repellent with 20% concentration of Picaridin or 20% concentration of IR3535 or 20%-30% concentration of DEET and concludes that the risks from contracting Zika far outweigh potential side-effects from insect repellents.
Make sure you use mosquito screens and air conditioning if provided where you’re staying, sleep under a mosquito net and because these mosquitos are particularly aggressive during the day, be extra vigilant and keep your repellent especially topped up between sunrise and sunset.
As Zika is also sexually transmitted, if your partner has visited an area with Zika they could pass the virus on to you, so use a barrier method of contraception to prevent possible transmission.
What if I’m trying to conceive?
The CDC recommends waiting 8 weeks to start trying to conceive if your partner has come back from an area with Zika and they show no signs of infection.
If they are showing signs of infection, a 6 month wait is suggested.