Zika virus

Although 80% of those infected with the Zika virus do not become ill, many people are worried about it because of a possible link between the infection and birth defects. Here are a few things you should know about this link:

  • It can cause birth defects. A pregnant women infected with the Zika virus can pass it to her baby during pregnancy or at delivery. When the Zika virus is passed to the baby during pregnancy, this can cause microcephaly in the newborn. Microcephaly is a rare birth defect in which the baby's head is smaller than expected. Other possible negative pregnancy outcomes include hearing problems and impaired growth in the newborn.
  • Microcephaly can cause serious complications. Children born with microcephaly may develop normally and be of normal intelligence, despite having a smaller-than-average head. However, in some cases, complications may occur, including speech and movement delays, coordination and balance problems, dwarfism or short stature, facial distortions, delayed mental development, and seizures.
  • Sexual transmission is possible. Although mainly spread through mosquito bites, the Zika virus can also be spread through sexual intercourse. Pregnant women should discuss with their health care professionals what precautions they should take if their partner has travelled to or lived in affected areas.
  • Zika infection does not pose a risk to subsequent pregnancies. Because the Zika virus stays in the blood of those infected for only a few days to a week, it is not believed to pose a risk to future pregnancies after the virus has been cleared from the body.
  • There is currently no vaccine and no treatment for Zika virus infection. For this reason, pregnant women in all trimesters and those considering becoming pregnant are encouraged to consider postponing travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is occurring.
  • Prevention of mosquito bites is crucial. If travel cannot be avoided, women should talk to their health care providers and avoid mosquito bites during their travels. This means protecting yourself by using insect repellents (reapplying as per the directions) and bed nets, and wearing protective clothing like long-sleeved, loose-fitting, tucked-in shirts with long pants and a hat. Talk to your health care provider to discuss which insect repellents you should use if you're pregnant or breast-feeding.