With increasing attention from the media and healthcare providers, there is little doubt that you have heard about Zika virus and the potential risk of birth defects, such as microcephaly (abnormally small head or brain). That’s why we have developed this Zika virus birth defects Q and A. If you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant in the future, you may have many questions about Zika virus, including if you are at risk, or if your pregnancy could be adversely affected.
Over the past two years, researchers have spent a great deal of time studying Zika virus and the risk of birth defects, and have recently provided a clearer picture of the virus and its toll. One of the most notable breakthroughs in research is the clear correlation between Zika virus during pregnancy and the presence of microcephaly at birth. Understanding this correlation is critical in order to protect pregnancies and prevent continued spread of this dangerous disease.
Frequently Asked Questions about Zika Virus
Based on recent reports, here are some of the most common questions about Zika virus and birth defects:
What is Zika Virus?
Zika virus is a disease contracted via mosquito bite. The Aedes species of mosquito is believed to be the primary source of transmission. While Zika has been a healthcare concern since the 1940’s, it only recently began to spread throughout parts of Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America. As of now, there have been no reported new outbreaks of Zika in the continental U.S., but cases have been reported in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, as well as travel-related cases brought into the U.S.
What are the Symptoms of Zika Virus?
Zika virus often does not cause immediate symptoms in those infected. In fact, some people never experience symptoms, which makes the threat of spreading by transmission even greater. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the following as common symptoms with particular concern for pregnant women:
- Joint pain
- Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
As with any virus or maternal infection, it is important to seek medical attention immediately if you notice these or other symptoms during pregnancy.
Can Zika be Transmitted Between People?
Yes! Zika virus can be transmitted in several ways. The most obvious form of transmission is via mosquito bite, but the CDC warns that transmission of the virus can occur via the following:
- Mother-to-Child: Pregnant women who contract Zika virus can transmit the disease to their unborn child. Research shows that Zika is a direct contributor to microcephaly and other birth defects, making this form of transmission particularly dangerous. Zika can be transmitted at any time during pregnancy, including near birth.
- Sexual Contact: Zika virus also is known for being transmittable through sexual contact. According to the CDC, Zika virus remains active in semen longer than in blood, and can be transmitted through sexual intercourse (vaginal or anal) and oral sex without a condom.
- Blood Transfusion: The CDC reports that no Zika cases have been reported in the U.S. related to blood transfusions. However, there are multiple reports of this method of transmission in Brazil. Previous outbreaks in the French Polynesia also prove that Zika can be transmitted via blood.
What are the Risks of Zika Virus?
Among the general population, Zika virus may appear as any other with symptoms ranging from mild to moderate. In most cases, Zika does not require hospitalization, and very few people die due to the virus. Unfortunately, the risks of Zika infection are significantly increased among pregnant women. The most concerning risks include:
- Microcephaly: Research has indicated a clear link between Zika virus and microcephaly, with a staggering number of affected babies in outbreak areas. Microcephaly is a birth defect that results in an abnormally small head due to the brain not forming properly during pregnancy, or ceasing to form past a certain point during or after pregnancy. Babies with microcephaly may experience symptoms like seizures, developmental or intellectual delays, difficulties with feeding, balance, or movement, hearing loss, or vision problems.
- Fetal Brain Damage: In addition to microcephaly, exposure to Zika virus before birth has been linked to birth defects in infants including impaired growth, eye defects, and hearing loss.
While these risks have been identified, the CDC cautions that there are still many unanswered questions concerning pregnancy and the risks associated with Zika virus.
Can I Prevent Zika Virus from Affecting My Pregnancy?
Zika virus is a growing concern for researchers, and more information is needed in order to formulate adequate prevention strategies. Currently, there is no vaccine or “cure” for Zika virus. What can you do? The CDC offers some basic preventative tips that could help you avoid being infected with Zika during your pregnancy. These tips include:
- Avoid travelling to areas affected by Zika virus. If you cannot avoid travel, talk to your doctor about safety precautions before your trip and follow any orders given.
- Take measures to prevent exposure to mosquitoes, such as wearing pants and long sleeved shirts when outside, using EPA-registered repellent, remove any sources of standing water near your home where mosquitoes can breed, and make sure your window screens are well maintained.
- Practice safe sex, which means considering a few factors. First, make sure you know if your sexual partner has traveled to an area where Zika is currently active. Second, use condoms correctly every time you have sex (any form), or abstain from sex during pregnancy if your partner has been exposed. Third, if you are planning to get pregnant, use caution when traveling to an area possibly exposed to Zika virus.
- Talk to your doctor if you are pregnant and have traveled to an area where Zika virus is active, even if you did not know you were pregnant at the time. Even if you do not feel sick, you may still be infected with Zika virus. Often, Zika does not present symptoms for up to two weeks following exposure.
My Child was Born with a Birth Defect, What Can I do?
There are many reasons why birth defects occur. Zika virus is just one of those reasons. If your child was born with a birth defect and you believe that exposure to Zika virus was a contributing factor, you may be anxious to explore your rights. As a patient, you have the right to be informed about your healthcare, including any potential dangers from viruses, medications, or complications with your pregnancy. Contact Brown Wharton & Brothers to learn more about birth defects and birth injuries, and what you can do to protect your rights and your family. Complete our form, or call us toll free at 1-877-415-6603.