Over the past few months the Zika virus situation has been rapidly evolving and in turn receiving increased media attention. If you are pregnant or thinking of conceiving, it is important to know the facts surrounding Zika virus and what you should do.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. It is a mild disease and most people affected do not have symptoms. There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine available. The best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bites.
The virus is known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific (see list below for specific countries).
According to the Australian Department of Health, recent outbreaks in the Pacific and Central and South America have raised concerns that Zika might cause certain birth defects if a woman contracts the virus while pregnant, but further studies are required to prove that Zika is the cause and to understand how and when it may be passed on to the baby.
If you are pregnant or hoping to conceive, avoid travel to countries of concern. If you cannot avoid travel to these areas, protect yourself by taking measures to prevent mosquito bites.
If you are pregnant and you have recently travelled to an area where there is ongoing Zika virus transmission, or where it was being transmitted at the time of your travel, you should discuss this with your doctor.
The Australian Department of Health advises women who have travelled to such a country to defer pregnancy until 4 weeks after the last day they were there. If any symptoms arise, see your healthcare professional for advice.
Men who have travelled to a country where there is ongoing Zika virus transmission and have a pregnant partner should abstain from sexual activity or use condoms consistently for the duration of the pregnancy.
Men who have had a confirmed Zika virus infection and have a partner who is not pregnant should abstain from sexual activity or use condoms consistently for 3 months after all symptoms have disappeared.
The infection often occurs without symptoms but in some cases can cause fever, a rash, severe headache, and joint, muscle or bone pain.
These symptoms normally last between 2 and 7 days.
Zika virus disease is usually relatively mild and requires no specific treatment. People affected should rest, drink plenty of fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, seek medical care and advice. There is currently no vaccine available.
Infection with Zika virus may be suspected based on symptoms and recent history (e.g. residence in or travel to an area where the virus is present). Diagnosis can only be confirmed by laboratory testing for Zika virus RNA in the blood or other body fluids, such as urine or saliva.
This is a rapidly evolving situation and areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing are difficult to determine and likely to change over time. The following list is from smartraveller.gov.au (April 4, 2016) and covers the key countries of concern: American Samoa, Aruba, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Marshall Islands, Martinique, Mexico, New Caledonia, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Sint Maarten, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Suriname, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, US Virgin Islands, and Venezuela.
For updates, please refer to http://www.smartraveller.gov.au.
The Zika virus is an evolving situation, so protect yourself, stay informed, be vigilant and seek advice from your GP or fertility specialist as required.