What is Zika Virus?
Zika is an arbovirus carried by the Aedes species of mosquito, resident in many tropical countries. Prior to 2014, there was little knowledge or concern about this virus, then between 2015 and 2017, there were widespread outbreaks in Central America and northern Brazil and other northern parts of South America. Many travellers, particularly from the USA, contracted the infection.
Why is Zika Virus a concern for pregnant women?
Pregnant women who contracted the virus, particularly in the first half of pregnancy, had a significant risk of their unborn baby developing a neurological syndrome. The virus crosses the placenta and affects the baby. The main features of the syndrome were a smaller than usual brain, a condition known as micrcocephaly. This resulted in many of these babies having long term, severe neurological handicap. Babies infected with Zika Virus can also develop abnormalities with the eyes, and limb contractures (formerly referred to as limb spasticity). In some cases premature birth and stillbirth have been caused by Zika.
Which countries are most at risk?
There is a link below to a recent map of the world showing the distribution of Zika at the time the map was published. In 2018 there has been a reduction in reported cases, and in 2019 so far, there were no new cases reported in the USA. It is uncertain why this is currently the case. Most cases reported emerged from central America, and the northern half of south America. There were outbreaks in the southern states of the USA which are tropical in nature (Florida, Texas etc.). There is a long list of countries with isolated confirmed cases.
How can I avoid Zika in pregnancy?
The first measure would be, where possible, not to travel to tropical countries, particularly in the first 24 weeks of pregnancy unless necessary. If you must travel to these regions sensible simple precautions will minimise, though not eliminate, your risk. Using appropriate mosquito repellents topically in the evenings and early morning, wearing long sleeves and long pants, sleeping under mosquito nets at night, and using mosquito repellent candles overnight all reduce the risk of transmission.
What are the symptoms, and can I be tested?
Often patients have no symptoms at all. At other times there is a mild fever, rash, mild cough, aches and pains in the joints and headache. The illness is not generally dangerous to the adult unless she is pregnant. If you think you may have been bitten whilst travelling, there is blood testing available.
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