If you are pregnant and contemplating the indulgence of an escape to the tropics before your baby arrives, you may want to reconsider your vacation destination. While sun-drenched sandy beaches are soothing to the soul, a close encounter with one tiny inhabitant of the insect kind can pose a detrimental effect on your unborn baby.
What Is Zika Virus?
Zika virus is an illness that is transmitted to humans through the bite from an infected Aedes mosquito. Only one in five people who are bitten by an infected mosquito will actually develop the virus, and most cases of Zika virus are mild and require no hospitalization. The symptoms of Zika virus typically endure for roughly a week or less. The majority of those infected with Zika virus will not exhibit any of the symptoms. Those who do present with symptoms will experience the following:
- Joint pain
In rare instances, Zika virus may be linked to the complication of Guillain Barré Syndrome. Not so rare or mild, however, is the threat that Zika virus may pose to the unborn.
What Is Microcephaly?
Microcephaly occurs when a baby's brain does not develop properly as a result of stunted growth. Microcephaly can be fatal in a developing fetus, leading to miscarriages and stillbirths. Survivors of microcephaly are likely to suffer lifelong severe neurological and cognitive deficits, and the lives of many of these victims end at an early age. After several cases in Brazil were linked with mothers who were infected with Zika virus, researchers have embarked on studies to confirm the association between Zika virus and a potential complication of microcephaly in unborn babies. In the meantime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) organization has issued an alert that advises pregnant women to avoid travel to affected geographical areas where Zika virus looms.
Affected Areas to Avoid
Zika virus is not a new illness. It was originally discovered during the 1940s in Uganda, Africa. The virus has now been reported in other African countries, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, South America and some Caribbean islands. The CDC is warning pregnant women against travel to areas in which Zika virus transmission has been documented, including these 14 countries and territories:
- El Salvador
- Puerto Rico
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- Dominican Republic
- Saint. Martin
- French Guiana
- Cape Verde
Since there is no vaccine to protect you against Zika virus, play it safe and keep risky locales off of your travel itinerary by checking the CDC website for affected area updates before you book your trip.
Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones
The best method of protection against contracting Zika virus is to avoid traveling to affected destinations if you are pregnant, regardless of which trimester you have entered. This same precaution applies if you are presently trying to become pregnant. If travel to one of these areas is absolutely necessary and unavoidable, be diligent in the following practices to minimize your risk of sustaining mosquito bites:
- Remain indoors as much as possible.
- Wear long sleeves, long pants, socks and a hat so that your skin is not exposed for hungry mosquitoes.
- Apply a mosquito repellant product that has is registered by the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Sleep indoors in an air-conditioned room, or surround a bed with mosquito netting if sleeping quarters are exposed to the outdoors.
Be aware that, unlike most types of mosquitoes found in the United States, the aggressive Aedes mosquito swarms and feeds during daytime hours.
You should also urge your travel companions to adhere to the same precautionary measures. If one of them contracts Zika virus, all it takes is for one mosquito to bite him or her and then zero in on your own flesh to transmit the virus to you. Upon your return home, everyone should continue to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes for the first 10 days, and you should immediately report to your obstetrician or gynecologist, like at North Florida Women's Care, so that you and your baby can be screened and monitored appropriately.