6 Things Pregnant Women Need to Know About the Zika Virus

Two pregnant women in Illinois recently tested positive for the Zika virus. And it was reported that last week, a baby born with microcephaly in Hawaii had been infected with the virus. All this news has sent many moms-to-be into a panic. And that's understandable. The virus sounds scary -- it can be transmitted from a pregnant woman to her fetus and cause birth defects. But is there really cause for concern?

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Not necessarily.

Here's what you need to know:

How it's transmitted. The Zika virus is usually transmitted via a mosquito bite. It cannot be transmitted from person to person. In rare cases, the virus can be passed from mother to fetus during childbirth.

The symptoms. Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes (conjunctivitis). Pregnant women with two or more symptoms should undergo a blood test for the virus. However, only one in five people who have been infected experience any symptoms.

The scary part. If a pregnant woman transmits the virus to her fetus, researchers think it may cause microcephaly, a rare condition that's associated with a small head and incomplete brain development in newborns. If you have visited a country on the CDC's travel warning list (below) and are concerned, let your doctor know.

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Countries to avoid. The CDC has issued a travel alert recommending that pregnant women avoid or postpone travel to: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico. If your heart was set on a babymoon to one of these locations, you should reconsider.

How to protect yourself if you do travel. If you can't avoid travel to a place where Zika has been present in mosquitoes, be sure to use insect repellent and make sure your windows have screens.

What about the cases in the US? The mother of the baby born in Hawaii had lived in Brazil early in her pregnancy and was likely bitten by a mosquito then, according the Hawaii State Health Department. The two women in Illinois had recently traveled to areas where the virus is present.

Bottom Line: You can't contract the Zika virus unless you get bitten by an infected mosquito -- of which there are none in the US. You can't "catch" the virus any other way. Avoid travel to the countries on the CDC travel alert list. If you have been to one of those countries and are concerned, talk to your doctor.

 

 Image via epicseurope/Shutterstock 

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