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Birth Defects & Preventing the Zika Virus

February 17, 2016

Information about Avoiding the Zika Virus

Avoid the Zika Virus

The Zika virus is a serious worry for pregnant women right now.

Right now, there is a great deal of concern over the Zika Virus. This virus is spread by mosquitoes and is especially common in South America. However, there have been cases here in the United States as well. Most of the cases in the US are associated traveling to an area where the virus is common, such as Brazil. The 9 locally acquired cases were in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Island. As of February, 2016, there are no reported locally acquired cases in United States’ mainland. However, it could be that people have the virus and are not reporting it or are completely unaware that they are suffering from the virus, since the symptoms are similar to other illnesses.

What is the Zika Virus?

The Zika virus, in and of itself, is not particularly dangerous for most people. It is rarely deadly and causes relatively minor symptoms such as muscle pain, ever, rash and red eyes. Most people do not get very sick and do not need to go to the hospital. According to the CDC, treatment is simply rest, fluids and pain relievers. That said, it is best to speak to a doctor if you become ill or think you have been exposed. Especially if you have other medical problems.

How Can You Get Infected?

Mosquitoes carry the virus and people become infected with it when they are bitten. There are also signs that the illness can be transmitted through exchange of fluids, such as during sexual contact. According to the CDC, the best way to prevent the Zika virus is to avoid mosquito bites or to avoid exchanging fluids with an infected person. Pregnant women might consider avoiding traveling to locations where the virus is common.

Avoiding Mosquito Bites

Mosquito bites and Zika

Avoiding mosquito bites from virus carrying mosquitoes is key to preventing Zika.

The CDC offers a number of recommendations about avoiding mosquito bites:

  • Keep exposed skin covered. This means long sleeve shirts and long pants. Also wear a hat.
  • As much as possible, stay indoors in protected areas. This would include air-conditioned locations or places that are completely screened-in.
  • Use a bug spray to prevent bites. If you are pregnant, make sure the spray is safe for you and the baby.
    • Put sunscreen on first and the bite prevention spray on second. Otherwise the sunscreen might interfere with the effectiveness of the bug spray.

Pregnant and Think you Might be Infected?

If you are pregnant and have traveled to an area where the Zika virus is common or are concerned you might be infected, you can be tested to find out if you are positive. This is especially important if you notice any of the symptoms within two weeks of travel:

  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Rash
  • Red Eyes

Can Zika Cause Birth Defects?

microcephaly and zika

Microcephaly is abnormal smallness of the head. It generally comes from incomplete brain development. (Click for full size.)

It is believed that the virus can cause microcephaly in babies. Microcephaly is a “rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex.” This is generally caused by abnormal development of the brain in the womb or problems with the brain’s growth after birth. There is no treatment for microcephaly. Keep in mind, some children just have smaller heads than others. Microcephaly is when the size difference is significant. There can be complications, including:

  • Developmental delays
  • Coordination and balance issues
  • Dwarfism
  • Facial distortions
  • Hyperactivity
  • Mental retardation
  • Seizures

Is the Larvicide the Real Cause of Birth Defects?

Recently there have been claims that the larvicide used to kill mosquitoes is the real cause of microcephaly. At this point, there is no evidence that there is any connection between the larvicide and  the increase in microcephaly in Brazil. There is, however, a direct connection between the Zika virus and microcephaly based on tests finding the virus in affected babies. There are also increased cases of microcephaly in areas where the Zika virus is prevalent, but the larvicide in question (pyriproxyfen) is not used.

Protect Yourself and Your Baby

At this point, the CDC recommends that, if at all possible, pregnant women stay out of locations where the Zika virus is common. Further, it recommends that women who can become pregnant are very careful to avoid pregnancy when in an area where the virus is common or who are engaging in sexual contact with a man who could have the virus. It is also best to avoid pregnancy for a period of time after possible exposure. If you are concerned you might have the virus and plan on becoming pregnant, it might be wise, according to the CDC, to be tested before you seek to become pregnant.

 

*All medical information in this article is taken from the CDC’s website. Please check with a medical professional.

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