What You Should Know About Zika Virus If You Want to Get Pregnant This Summer

Zika and pregnancy

Mosquitoes have never been so scary as they are now, thanks to the Zika virus. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently advised that some couples in high-risk areas postpone trying to have a baby.

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In case you've been in denial or just trying not to read news that freaks you out, Zika virus is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito or can be sexually transmitted. And, at a White House press conference this week, two top health officials from the CDC and the National Institute of Health (NIH) warned that Zika is a lot scarier than previously thought -- even for adults.  

But what's really got everyone so panicked -- and damn straight we all should be -- is that Zika is linked to devastating birth defects.

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A pregnant woman can spread Zika to her unborn baby, where it can cause microcephaly, a condition that causes a smaller brain that isn't developed correctly. A severe case can lead to trouble with feeding, hearing and vision problems, development delays, and seizures.

Right now, 312 people in the US are known to have been infected with Zika. None caught it here at home, but rather while traveling overseas to high-risk areas. (Only six were sexually transmitted cases.) So that's the, uh, "good" news.

The bad?

Health officials think it's possible that Zika-infected mosquitoes will come into the US this summer. Hot, humid states like Texas and Florida will likely be most vulnerable.

So does this mean you should abandon your dreams of becoming pregnant until the panic (and mosquito season) passes?

Not necessarily, says Dr. Kaylen Silverberg, MD, a board-certified OB/GYN, board member of the national fertility service provider Ovation Fertility, and co-founder of Texas Fertility Center in Austin, Texas.

"In the absence of an animal host, there's no true reservoir for the virus," he explains. "Therefore, infection rates in the US should be very low. To achieve the worst case scenarios that are being described [by some health experts], infected insects would have to come into the US in large numbers in order to infect a large number of people."

Breathe tentative sigh of relief here: _____.

"With the right tools," adds Dr. Silverberg, "we can limit people's exposure to Zika."

Here's what you need to know if you're in baby-making mode:

1. Limit your exposure.

Once mosquito season starts, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when you're outside. Use an insect repellent that contains DEET. Mosquitoes love standing water, Dr. Silverberg notes, "so if you have any on your property, get rid of it."

The CDC also advises that you use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)–registered insect repellents.

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2. Be cautious about overseas travel.

"I've talked lots of patients out of traveling right now to [Zika hot spots] Brazil or Argentina," says Dr. Silverberg.

If your partner has absolutely got to go there and you're pursuing fertility treatments, "have him bank some sperm before he leaves," Dr. Silverberg suggests. "Then you don't have to worry about it."

CDC pregnancy and Zika

If you've traveled to an area with Zika, the CDC has a downloadable checklist for you to take with you to your doctor's office!

3. Take reasonable precautions.

If your partner's been ill with Zika or shown symptoms of the illness, the CDC advises using condoms for six months. And if he's simply been to a high-risk area, they say you should abstain from all sex for a minimum of eight weeks.

Dr. Silverberg notes that "it takes 90–108 days from the time sperm is made until it's ejaculated,” so six months of contraception should put you in the clear. But, of course, you should check in with your health care provider for additional advice.

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4. Keep things in perspective.

"Remain tuned in and keep up with information as it's available," says Dr. Silverberg. "But don't panic. The likelihood of women contracting Zika in the US is remote. Not small, but remote."

You should definitely talk to your doctor if you're considering getting pregnant and have concerns about Zika! And, you can always visit the CDC's Zika and pregnancy site for updated information.

 

 

Image via parinyabunisk/Shutterstock; cdc.gov/zika/pregnancy

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