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Zika Virus in Pregnancy: What You Need to Know


By Melissa Wolf, MD, Bozeman Health Women’s Specialists

Zika virus is spread primarily to people through the bite of an infected mosquito. These mosquitos are most active during daytime hours but can also bite at night. Zika virus can also be sexually transmitted by a man to his sexual partners.

The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. These symptoms are often mild and many people may not realize they have been infected. Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly, a serious birth defect of the fetal brain. Not all pregnant women infected with Zika virus will have a baby with a birth defect. Currently, the likelihood that a baby will develop birth defects from Zika infection is unknown, or if one trimester is more dangerous to be infected than others.

Unfortunately, at the present time there is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus and no medication to treat Zika once a person has been infected.

Still, there are many things you can do to protect yourself and your baby from Zika virus and to reduce your chances of infection. If you are pregnant, the CDC recommends that you delay travel to areas known to have Zika virus. Travel advisories are updated frequently at If your sexual partner has traveled to an area with Zika virus, you should use condoms every time you have sex or avoid sex for the remainder of your pregnancy. Tell your health care provider immediately if you or your sexual partner have traveled or are planning to travel to an area known to have Zika virus.

Prevention of mosquito bites is the best defense if you are in an area known to have Zika virus. Wear long sleeves and pants, use permethrin-treated clothing, and stay in areas with window and door screens that keep mosquitos outside. At night, sleep under a mosquito net. Insect repellant works well and is safe and effective for pregnant and breastfeeding women. The CDC recommends use of a repellant with one of the following active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or paramenthandiol. Do not apply insect repellant on the skin under your clothing. If you are also using sunscreen, apply the sunscreen first and then apply the insect repellant.

If you or your sexual partner have symptoms of Zika virus, contact your healthcare provider for testing. At present, Zika virus testing is only being done in consultation with the Health Department and the CDC, although tests are in development that will make widespread testing more readily available. If you test positive for Zika during pregnancy, your healthcare provider will most likely recommend that you have several ultrasounds during pregnancy to check the growth and development of your baby.

What healthcare providers know about Zika virus infection and its effects on pregnancy is constantly changing as we learn more about this disease. For the most up to date information on virus transmission, testing, treatment and for travel advisories, visit Remember, currently, there is no treatment for Zika virus so prevention is your best defense.

Categories: Deaconess