You’ve probably heard about the Zika virus on the news recently – and we wouldn’t blame you for feeling anxious. Across Central and South America, health authorities and news outlets have been informing women of the dangers that the Zika virus may pose during pregnancy. There have been several reports released showing a connection between rising rates of Zika contraction and increased diagnoses of newborn microcephaly – which has led to the belief that the Zika virus leads to birth defects. The fears around this link have even lead to some authorities suggesting that women living in these high-risk areas should delay having children altogether.
This information can be misleading, confusing, and generally quite scary. We wanted to break down the facts for you, tell you what you can do to reassure yourself, and to put things into perspective a little.
1. So, what is the Zika Virus? Zika was discovered in the late 1940s, with the first human diagnosis occurring in 1952. The virus is similar to dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever, in that it’s carried by infected Aedes species mosquitos. These mosquitos are common in South and Central America, with the most recent outbreak of the contracted virus appearing in Brazil late last year. The symptoms of the virus itself are fairly mild – however the potential effects it can have on an unborn child’s physical and mental development are more worrying.
2. How is it contracted? Mosquitos carrying the virus typically bite in the daytime – so long sleeves and plenty of repellant is mandatory if you’re in a high-risk zone. They thrive in moist, warm areas, so keeping your surroundings clean, dry and aerated is crucial to reduce the risk of mosquitos.
3. What are the symptoms? The Zika virus has similar symptoms to the flu (muscle pain, fever, headaches), with the addition of possible conjunctivitis, rashes and eye pain. However, these symptoms occur in only one out of five cases – so you might not even know you’ve contracted it.
We’d like to make it clear that there is no concrete evidence proving that the Zika virus directly causes microcephaly – and that microcephaly is not a symptom of the Zika virus. Rather, there have been cases of microcephaly that have been linked to regions in Central and South America, and these regions have recorded high levels of women contracting mosquito-inflicted Zika. Microcephaly has many genetic and environmental causes, which have to be taken into consideration when creating a causal link between Zika and microcephaly.
4. How can you stay protected? The simple answer is to use insect repellent. Products containing DEET are completely safe to use during pregnancy. However, if you choose to use products that are DEET-free, we also have an option for you. Here are two recommendations the team have used on trips abroad:
- The Organic, DEET-Free Option: Incognito Insect Repellant
- The DEET-Based Option: Pyramid Trek DEET Spray
5. How is it treated? The Zika virus doesn’t have a cure – although there are fairly easy ways to recuperate if you’re diagnosed: drink plenty of fluids, apply mosquito repellant constantly, stay in cool, shaded areas, and sleep. As the symptoms are flu-like, so is the treatment: lots of nourishment, hydration, and bed-rest!
6. What can you do to reassure yourself? Our main piece of advice would be to consult your doctor if you have any concerns. If you’ve just returned from a high-risk area and have recently found out that you’re pregnant, book an appointment to discuss your baby’s health. Your doctor may recommend a blood test or an ultrasound – depending on the stage of your pregnancy and whether you were bitten during your trip.
If you’re planning for a family and are looking to visit a high-risk area, we would also suggest that you consult with your GP first, so they can give you all the information you need on insect repellant, mosquito nets, and appropriate clothing. You should give yourself plenty of time to book these meetings, so you don’t rush or miss a crucial appointment. Like all destinations that create the potential for contracting exotic diseases, it is important to exercise caution.
When we see images of children with microcephaly it can be incredibly upsetting, and immediately spark fear when we consider travelling to a Central or South-American country – especially if you’re pregnant. Whilst it’s heartbreaking to see these pictures, it’s so important to remember that the cases have occurred in areas that may not have regular access to repellant, mosquito nets, and readily available medical consultation. With this in mind, we can properly prepare ourselves, and remain vigilant against bites.
We hope this post has assuaged some of your fears – please let us know in the comments if you have any more concerns or questions that the team could answer.