Information About the Zika Virus

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, the doctors at NYU Langone understand that you may have questions about Zika, an infection that might affect your pregnancy.

There is no vaccine to prevent the Zika virus or medicine to treat the infection. Pregnant women who are concerned they might have been exposed to the Zika virus should contact their obstetricians immediately. If you are considering pregnancy and are concerned that you might have been exposed or are considering travel to region where the Zika virus has been reported, please first talk with your primary care physician or gynecologist before trying to conceive.

Learn more about the Zika virus and how it can affect pregnancy.

About the Zika Virus

Zika is a virus spread primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito. The virus also can be transmitted through all forms of unprotected sexual intercourse. Currently, there have been no reports of mother–baby transfer of Zika virus through breastmilk.

Who is at Risk for Zika Virus

Zika presents the greatest risk to pregnant women because the virus can spread from the mother to her baby during pregnancy. This increases a baby’s risk of developing microcephaly, a condition in which the baby’s head is smaller than normal due to abnormal brain development. Zika infection can also increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.

Signs and Symptoms of the Zika Virus

It is thought that the vast majority, up to 80 percent, of people infected with Zika virus never experience any symptoms. For those who do develop symptoms, the most common include fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. The illness is generally mild and lasts only a few days.

Travel to Zika-Affected Regions

Mosquito-borne transmission of the virus has been documented in a large number of countries in South America, Latin America, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean. It also has been seen in a small geographic area in the state of Florida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the best source for the most up-to-date information on affected regions.

The CDC advises women who are pregnant to consider postponing travel to these areas. If your pregnancy occurred during travel to an affected region, or if you did not yet know you were pregnant during your trip, please let your obstetrician know that you might have been exposed. He or she might recommend that your blood be tested to look for the virus.

Protection Against Mosquito Bites

If you must travel to an affected region, guarding yourself against mosquito bites is the best way to avoid contracting the Zika virus.

Insect repellent is the first line of defense against mosquito bites. The CDC recommends the use of repellents containing DEET; picaridin, also known as KBR 3023, Bayrepel, and icaridin; oil of lemon eucalyptus; para-menthane-diol; or IR3535. The most effective insect repellents contain DEET, which has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for use during pregnancy.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for any insect repellant. Apply to any exposed skin, as well as your clothing. If you are using sunscreen, apply it first, followed by insect repellent. Reapply repellent as needed. If you feel you are being bitten, apply more insect repellent or go inside.

The type of mosquito that transmits the Zika virus is most likely to bite in the daytime. When you are outside, wear light-colored clothing that covers as much of your body as possible. Buy permethrin-treated clothing or treat your own clothing with permethrin, an insect repellent that can last up to six weeks on clothing and persists after several washings. Permethrin should not be applied directly to the skin.

Keep mosquitoes outside of your living area by using screens on doors and windows. Avoid travel to areas of affected regions without piped water and poor sanitation. Standing water is more likely to exist in these places, and it provides an environment in which mosquitoes can breed.

Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus

Second to mosquito bites, sexual intercourse is the most common method by which Zika virus is transmitted.

Zika can be transmitted by semen during all forms of intercourse, including oral sex. If your male partner has traveled to an area where Zika virus is present, the CDC recommends using a condom during intercourse. The virus can be transmitted by someone who is infected but does not show any symptoms, or before he or she develops symptoms. In some cases, people become infected and carry the virus without ever developing symptoms.

Guidance for Pregnant Woman

Pregnant women should avoid travel to affected regions if possible. If you must travel, protect yourself against mosquito bites. Let your doctor know about the travel, as the CDC recommends that all pregnant women who have visited affected areas be offered testing for the virus. A detailed ultrasound examination of the baby should be performed to evaluate for any signs of Zika infection.

If your male partner has traveled to a Zika-affected region, the CDC advises that you abstain from intercourse or use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy to avoid possible transmission.

Guidance for Woman Planning a Pregnancy

If you are considering pregnancy and have traveled to an area with Zika virus transmission, or have a partner who has been to a Zika-identified region, wait at least eight weeks before trying to conceive. If your male partner developed signs or symptoms consistent with Zika infection, the CDC recommends waiting six months before trying to conceive.

Guidance for Women Not Planning a Pregnancy

Nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, so even couples that are not trying to get pregnant should protect themselves from contracting and transmitting the virus. The CDC recommends using condoms for eight weeks after possible exposure to the virus, and six months if your male partner experienced symptoms of the virus.