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How Zika Virus Affects Unborn Baby?

If you are pregnant/trying to conceive, you should be extremely cautious of this mosquito-borne illness that can even threaten your unborn baby's health. Zika can cause microcephaly and other severe neurological defects among newborns including vision problems, impaired growth. The best approach is to prevent mosquito bites, avoid traveling to zika-prone areas.

The tiny mosquito is a dangerous insect as it is. From dengue and malaria to chikungunya, debilitating illnesses can be caused by a single bite. Now we have an even more lethal virus – Zika, which can be passed on from a pregnant woman to her fetus! Here’s one pregnancy precaution you don’t want to miss out on.

Getting Infected

The spread of the Zika virus has been alarming and rather uncontrolled, having already appeared in over 39 countries, including the United States. The epidemic is linked mostly to the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus). The role of the Culex species, better known as the common house mosquito, hasn’t been completely ruled out either. Transmission of the virus occurs by the predominantly day-time biter Aedes and also through unprotected sex with a partner who has spent time in Zika infected areas. Blood transfusions haven’t yet been proven to be a cause for concern.1

Pregnancy Effect

The scariest news yet is that Zika can be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her fetus. That’s not all. The infection leads to microcephaly, a condition in which the baby’s head is abnormally small, thus leading to brain defects with chances of cognition, speech, hearing, vision, and movement issues.

One of the most affected nations is Brazil. Reports from their Health Ministry indicate a twenty-fold increase in cases of microcephaly among newborns, possibly linked to Zika infection during pregnancy. Detailed studies of certain fetuses revealed severe brain defects, with fetal body weight in the 5th percentile and the head circumference only in the 1st percentile. The Zika virus was found in the amniotic fluid, transmitted from the mother, and was also neurotropic in nature, that is, destroying nerve cells – in this case affecting the brains and eyes the most.2

Thinking of Getting Pregnant?

While Zika during pregnancy is bad news, the advisory for women trying to get pregnant is also pretty clear – stay away from mosquitos and also from men who have been in Zika infected areas. Also, get tested before planning a baby. Women who are trying to get pregnant, and their partners, must also actively avoid traveling to areas where Zika has been reported.

In case you can’t avoid travel or if you live in a Zika-prone area, first get tested to ensure you haven’t already been infected. If yes, wait until the infection disappears from the body before planning a baby. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you’ll need to wait at least 8 weeks after exposure or after symptoms appear. More importantly, once you get pregnant, take all possible precautions to prevent contracting Zika.3

After The Infection

The Zika virus infection in itself doesn’t cause a decrease in fertility. So women of reproductive age who’ve suffered the viral infection can continue to have a healthy reproductive life later. If you’ve had Zika at some point and want to plan a baby, meet a doctor and get tested to ensure that you are not still carrying the virus.

After The Baby

For pregnant women who have a Zika infection, post delivery, the newborn must be tested for Zika effects such as microencephaly, hearing loss, and poor vision. Even if the child appears well, the CDC recommends that tissue samples be tested just to be sure.4 New mothers should continue to take precautions to avoid catching the virus through a mosquito bite or sexual transmission. While extremely rare so far, there have been cases of a healthy newborn being infected through breast milk, when the mother contracted the virus post delivery. So this virus is dangerous at all times.5

Prevention Is The Only Option

There is no cure for a Zika infection. It has to take its natural course. Vaccines, specifically for pregnant women and those trying to get pregnant, are still being developed. The best way to ensure you don’t contract Zika is by not traveling to places that report infections. If travel is a compulsion, keep yourself safe from mosquitos by covering up fully and ensuring mosquitos don’t breed nearby. Essential oils of violet and catnip can also help keep mosquitos away.6 Likewise, citronella, either as a candle or in herbal creams, can help reduce mosquito bites by about 40%.7

As you can see, pregnancy and Zika are a horrible combination. Do take ample care to steer clear of this virus while trying to conceive, during pregnancy, and after.

References   [ + ]

1. Gatherer, Derek, and Alain Kohl. “Zika virus: a previously slow pandemic spreads rapidly through the Americas.” Journal of General Virology 97, no. 2 (2016): 269-273.
2. Mlakar, Jernej, Misa Korva, Nataša Tul, Mara Popović, Mateja Poljšak-Prijatelj, Jerica Mraz, Marko Kolenc et al. “Zika virus associated with microcephaly.” New England Journal of Medicine 374, no. 10 (2016): 951-958.
3. Women Trying To Get Pregnant, CDC.
4. Zika Virus, CDC.
5. Dupont-Rouzeyrol, Myrielle, Antoine Biron, Olivia O’Connor, Emilie Huguon, and Elodie Descloux. “Infectious Zika viral particles in breastmilk.” The Lancet 387, no. 10023 (2016): 1051.
6. Amer, Abdelkrim, and Heinz Mehlhorn. “Repellency effect of forty-one essential oils against Aedes, Anopheles, and Culex mosquitoes.” Parasitology research 99, no. 4 (2006): 478-490.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.