The spread of the Zika virus has been making national headlines lately, and concerns are especially high for pregnant women. Why is this and what can be done to protect yourself, especially if you are pregnant?

Zika virus belongs to the same family as yellow fever, West Nile, and other viruses often spread by mosquitoes. If an Aedes mosquito (not found in most of Utah http://www.cdc.gov/zika/vector/range.html) bites an infected person, the mosquito can become infected after a 2-day gestation period. Then if it bites another human that person can become infected as well. 80% of infected people never show symptoms of the virus, and for those who do, the symptoms are mild and include fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain, and headaches. Symptoms last for a few days to a week, and most people do not require a doctor’s visit.

So why is this getting so much media attention? It seems to be a case of ‘better safe than sorry’, and for good reason. While the virus only remains active for a few weeks in the human body before working itself out, if during that time a woman is in her first trimester of pregnancy, there is a possible link to a serious birth defect known as microcephaly, a condition in which the baby is born with a smaller than normal head. The World Health Organization (WHO) has not yet proven that this link exists and they have not been able to determine the likelihood of the birth defect if a woman is infected. They do know that Brazil has had a Zika outbreak, that there has been a slight increase in microcephaly, and that in seventeen cases (out of over 400) babies born with this birth defect have also tested positive for Zika. More testing is, of course, in the works. As time goes on, the WHO may find stronger proof of the link, but in the meantime are urging precautions just in case the link exists.

So what precautions should you take? There are three ways that Zika virus can be transmitted, and protecting yourself from each requires some basic and convenient precautions.

1. Transmission via Mosquito

  • Avoid travel to areas affected by the Zika Virus.
  • Wear pants and long sleeved shirts when outside (remember Utah’s desert environment does not host the types of mosquitoes that can transmit Zika, so the risk is low)
  • Use mosquito repellent, or if you want a more natural approach, take a daily garlic supplement, which acts as a natural bug repellent.
  • Avoid mosquitoes – keep fans going when enjoying outdoor picnics and such, keep screens on your windows, etc.

2. Transmission via Sexual Contact

  • Use protection for eight weeks after a partner has traveled to an area with a Zika outbreak or who may have otherwise been exposed.
  • Even if you are already pregnant Zika can still be transmitted. Again, use protection or abstinence.
  • If your partner has traveled to Zika infected areas, have them tested for Zika before sexual contact.

3. Transmission from Mother to Fetus

  • Avoid getting pregnant if you or your partner may have been exposed to the Zika Virus.
  • See your Granger doctor immediately if you or your partner experience symptoms.
  • If you think you may have been exposed, especially in your first trimester, see your doctor for testing.

The WHO does not know how likely it is your child will have a birth defect if you contract the Zika virus, so it is important to work with your doctor to closely monitor your pregnancy.

In reality, when it comes to Zika, there is a lot more that we don’t know than that we do. The virus itself is extremely mild. The only real risk is to pregnant women, and even that is not a proven fact as of yet. Basic precautions, especially in Utah where the risk of transmission by mosquito is extremely low, should be enough to protect anyone from the potential ramifications of this spreading virus.