Over the past few months the Zika virus situation has been evolving rapidly and in turn receiving increased media attention. If you are pregnant or are thinking of conceiving, it is important to know the facts surrounding Zika virus and what you should do.
What is Zika virus?
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 no specific treatment or vaccine. The best form of prevention is protection against mosquito bites.
Where is Zika virus?
The virus is known to circulate in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific (see list below for specific countries).
What are the concerns surrounding Zika virus and pregnancy?
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 like microcephaly, if the woman gets Zika while pregnant. In April, a special report* announced in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that sufficient evidence has now accumulated to infer a causal relationship between prenatal Zika virus infection and microcephaly and other severe brain anomalies.
What precautions can I take in relation to Zika virus and pregnancy?
If you are pregnant or are hoping to conceive, you and your partner should 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 have recently travelled to an area where there is ongoing Zika virus transmission, or where it was being transmitted at the time of your visit, you should discuss this with your doctor.
The Australian Department of Health advises that women who have travelled to such a country should defer pregnancy until 4 weeks after the last day they were there. If any symptoms occur, please 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 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.
What are the symptoms of Zika virus?
The infection often occurs without symptoms; only 20% of infected people will be symptomatic.
People with Zika virus disease usually have symptoms that can include mild fever, rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache. These symptoms normally last between 2 and 7 days.
The disease is usually relatively mild and requires no specific treatment. People with Zika virus should get plenty of rest, drink enough fluids, and treat pain and fever with common medicines. If symptoms worsen, patients should seek medical care and advice. There is currently no vaccine available.
How can Zika virus be diagnosed?
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 known to be present). Diagnosis can only be confirmed by laboratory testing for the presence of the virus RNA in the blood or other body fluids, such as urine or saliva.
List of countries with ongoing transmission of Zika
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. For updates, please refer to http://www.smartraveller.gov.au: 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, Papa New Guinea, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Sint Maarten, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Suriname, Thailand, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, US Virgin Islands, and Venezuela.
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.
- *Sonja A. Rasmussen, M.D et al, 13 April 2016, ‘Zika Virus and Birth Defects — Reviewing the Evidence for Causality’, The New England Journal of Medicine.
For the latest updates and information on Zika virus, please refer to:
- The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: smartraveller.gov.au
- The World Health Organisation: www.who.int/topics/zika/en/
- The Australian Department of Health: www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/ohp-zika.htm
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