The Zika virus is the current nightmare of pregnant women and those trying to conceive in the U.S. The mosquito-borne virus causes severe congenital disabilities, which include brain damage to the unborn child. According to a report by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), over 3,000 Zika infections in the U.S.A. were travel-related, with a significant number of domestic infections spread through sexual encounters. The World Health Organization (WHO) expects the virus to continue spreading since it is present in almost all countries in the Americas. Equipping yourself with basic knowledge about the Zika virus is necessary if you are pregnant or wish to conceive in the future.
What is the Zika Virus?
The Zika virus refers to an insect-borne infection mainly spread through an infected Aedes mosquito. The Aedes mosquito also carries the Chikungunya virus, yellow fever, and dengue. The name “Zika” is derived from a forest in Uganda, Zika forest, where the virus was first discovered in monkeys in 1947. Five years later, the virus spread to humans in Uganda and her neighbor, Tanzania. A few years later, human infections spread throughout Africa and went further into Asia. The first full-blown spread of the virus occurred in 2007, in the states of Micronesia of the Island of Yap.
How is Zika Transmitted?
Zika spreads when an infected mosquito bites one. Zika also spreads through sexual intercourse. The virus also passes from mother to child during pregnancy. However, there are still no conclusive studies measuring the risk of the disease to a fetus. It is only in rare cases that the virus has been passed through blood transfusion.
Why Are Pregnant Women at a High Risk of Being Infected?
During pregnancy, the unborn child and its mother share blood through the umbilical cord. Therefore, the Zika virus spreads to the unborn child via this shared blood supply. The virus associated with serious congenital disabilities, fetal defects, and other complications that mainly occur in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Symptoms of a Zika Viral Infection
A Zika viral infection resembles common flu. The symptoms include a headache, fever, joint and muscle pain, conjunctivitis, and a rash. Symptoms could last from a few days to one week.
Why is the Zika Virus Dangerous?
In pregnant women, a Zika viral infection is devastating compared to the mild effect it has on other victims. The risks that this infection poses to pregnant women include loss of the unborn baby or a child born with microcephaly. This condition is characterized by a small brain and is linked to mental retardation, seizures, and developmental delays that may be fatal.
In a recent study, researchers linked the virus to glaucoma, vision problems, impaired growth, and hearing loss in children.
Although the virus lingers in the infected person’s blood for a couple of days, the CDC holds that there is no evidence to show that it can affect future pregnancies. Zika does not infect a baby that is conceived when the virus has already left a woman’s bloodstream.
Currently, there is no vaccine for the Zika virus. However, infected persons can relieve symptoms by taking prescription medicine for fever and pain. Doctors also advise infected patients to get enough rest and drink a lot of fluids.
The best protection against the Zika virus is to prevent contact with mosquitoes. This may be through using insect repellents, mosquito nets, and wearing clothes that cover most of your body. It is also advisable to address breeding sites near or around your house.
The Zika virus poses a massive risk to pregnant women due to its effects on the unborn child. The viral infection has been associated with many serious conditions, such as brain defects in infants. While the disease has no definite cure, you can protect yourself by avoiding contact with mosquitoes.
Updated: 16 July 2020