Monday, February 1, 2016

Zika Virus: Resources for Pregnant Women

(Salt Lake City, UT) - The name Zika virus may be new to Utahns, but for the past several months, countries in Central and South America and many island nations have been battling an outbreak. It is estimated that the mosquito that carries the virus has infected people in more than 25 countries, including 11 U.S. states and Washington D.C. Those with the infections in the U.S. all reported travel to areas where the virus is common. The insect is an Aedes species mosquito that thrives in moist, wet areas where it’s warm and never freezes.

“For the average American who is not traveling to an affected area, the risk of getting Zika virus infection is minimal,” said Dr. Allyn Nakashima, State Epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health (UDOH). However, that changes when a pregnant woman is bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus. She adds, “In that case, the virus can infect the developing baby and may cause a life-long condition called microcephaly, although the connection hasn’t been definitely proven. And, it’s still undetermined in which part of pregnancy the mother has to have the infection in order for the baby to be affected.”

Severe microcephaly is rare and it means that the baby’s head size is notably small and that the child has a smaller brain than average.  If severe, the condition may lead to life-long problems, including seizures and delays in speech, sitting, standing, walking, or learning and coordination. Some children may also have hearing and vision loss. Microcephaly can sometimes be seen during an ultrasound done after the 1st trimester of pregnancy.

In the U.S., it is estimated that the rate of severe microcephaly ranges from two babies per 10,000 live births to about 12 babies per 10,000 live births.  Dr. John Carey, a University of Utah pediatrician and specialist in birth defects notes, “In the babies from Brazil whose mothers had Zika infections during their pregnancy, the observed degree of microcephaly has been severe.” He added, “However, further study is needed to determine a definite connection between the maternal infection and the microcephaly seen in the infants.”

Currently, there is no vaccine or cure for the Zika virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sent warnings to pregnant women traveling to certain countries that have already seen cases. If a pregnant woman has traveled to an area with Zika virus, she should watch for symptoms that may include fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, conjunctivitis (“pinkeye”), or a rash. Fever and headaches can be treated with acetaminophen (Tylenol®).  “It’s very important for pregnant women to control a fever, especially in the first 30 days of a pregnancy, which is when the fetal spine needs to close so that neural tube disorders such as spina bifida do not occur,” said Al Romeo, spokesperson for the UDOH MotherToBaby Program.

Utah public health officials say pregnant women should avoid traveling to those affected areas. For anyone who does plan to visit the affected countries, prevention is the best approach to avoiding Zika. Steps include using insect repellents containing DEET, wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and removing standing water where mosquitoes live and breed.

The Utah Department of Health and CDC are monitoring the situation closely.
Resources for pregnant women:

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Media Contact:
Al Romeo
UDOH MotherToBaby
(o) 801-538-6009 (c) 801-898-6249