by Kim Christopher Mackey, MD, OBGYN – Director of Women’s Health at The Women’s Center at Southwest Health
All the recent talk about the Zika virus and what could happen to your baby if you contract it while pregnant has pregnant women reeling. OB/GYN Specialist, Dr. Kim Christopher Mackey is here to clear up any misconceptions and put you at ease with the real facts about Zika.
“The best thing to do regarding the Zika virus in pregnancy is not to worry,” says Dr. Mackey. “But immediately after that what you need to do is take some reasonable precautions.”
Zika virus is a mosquito borne illness that can make pregnant women and their babies very sick. Here in Wisconsin though, Zika is something that we should all be thinking about but not something that we should all be worrying about.
The Aedes mosquito, which passes Zika virus, is a daytime mosquito. There are other mosquitos which like to bite at dusk and at night, but the Zika mosquito likes to bite in the daytime. Daytime vigilance is necessary. According to the CDC, “Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are more likely to spread viruses like Zika, dengue, chikungunya and other viruses than other types of mosquitoes.”
Pregnant women should avoid be bitten by mosquitos here or in any country. In order to do that you should use mosquito repellent, such as DEET, and when necessary you should cover your body with shirts down to your wrists, pants down to your ankles, and mosquito repellent on any exposed skin. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, along with the EPA, agree that DEET is safe for pregnant women to use. Remember to apply sun screen first and DEET second, same with children. In the day you should be behind screens that don’t have holes in them, and air conditioning. These are all simple ways you can reduce that chance that you or anybody will get bitten by a mosquito.
Pregnant women in Wisconsin are going to get bitten by mosquitos; it’s just going to happen this summer. A Zika borne mosquito bite that matters will cause a viral illness. You would most likely get a rash, irritated eyes, joint aches, and a fever within fourteen days of being bitten. In the absence of a viral illness which follows a mosquito bite you can to worry less.
Many pregnant women will be bitten, and they’ll have bumps and welts, and itchiness. But the number of women who actually have a viral illness is very small or maybe none. To date there have been no reported cases of Zika here in Wisconsin.
If you are in an area that has Zika and get bitten by a mosquito and you do present with symptoms of a viral illness, here’s what we do. As a pregnant woman you’ll make an extra visit to your OB/GYN doctor or the practitioner that taking care of you during the pregnancy. There we may consider some blood tests to confirm your exposure. The blood tests that are done include a gene test called PCR or an antibody test called Elisa. Elisa or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay is a test that detects and measures antibodies in your blood.
The other way to detect Zika or a Zika affected pregnancy is by ultrasound. The big finding that we’ve all heard about in the news is microcephaly or small heads. Microcephaly can be detected on ultrasound. The recommendations are to get the ultrasound that everyone gets between 18 to 22 weeks and then consider ultrasounds as often as every month thereafter to make sure that the head is a normal size and that the baby’s head is growing.
Zika is currently a virus where the focus is on preventing and detecting it. Unfortunately to date there is no cure for Zika or its effects on pregnancy. If a pregnant woman or her unborn baby contract Zika, there’s no treatment. All the testing and surveillance is done to try to watch and predict, but it does not prevent or treat.
The easiest way to treat Zika is to prevent it. And the easiest way to prevent it is to limit your travel during and before pregnancy. In general Zika countries are Central American, Caribbean, and South American. No pregnant woman or woman who is planning to become pregnant should be traveling to these locations until further notice. The exact countries are listed on the CDC website but in general anywhere south of Texas or south of Florida you can’t go.
Additionally, if you’re not pregnant or planning to become pregnant soon, travel is fine and safe. For women who get Zika, the recommendation is to wait eight weeks after all symptoms are gone to conceive. Also, for anyone who travels to those locations, delaying conception for eight weeks after travel recommended.
Men are supposed to refrain from fathering pregnancies eight weeks after travel. A man that contracts the Zika virus should not father a baby within six months of that illness. Zika can remain in the semen for much longer than in a woman’s blood.
Breastfeeding is not a mode of transmission from mother to baby or of any concern. For women who are not pregnant but are breastfeeding there’s no specific recommendation for curtailing or discontinuing breast feeding. The benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks in this case. Remember, Zika is only an issue when the baby is in a mother’s belly, not in a mother’s arms.
For more questions about Zika or any other condition of pregnancy, contact The Women’s Center at Southwest Health at 608.342.0986.
Kim Christopher Mackey, MD, OBGYN
Director of Women’s Health
Direct (608) 342-0986