After a trip to the Philippines, Blake Rainie Slack, CNM, was so inspired by the national policy work in women’s and family health being done by the midwives there that she decided to change careers when she returned to the US. She has now been a midwife for 13 years.
Zika is a virus spread by a particular type of mosquito (the Aedes species). People who contract Zika often only experience mild flu-like symptoms, such as fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), and four out of five people with Zika will never exhibit any symptoms.
However, Zika infection during pregnancy has been linked to severe birth defects. If you are pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant, it is important to be aware of the risks associated with the virus.
Zika Virus and Pregnancy
While the symptoms experienced by an expectant mother who contracts Zika may be mild, she can transmit the virus to the baby, which is cause for greater concern.
Recent research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that contracting Zika during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects, such as microcephaly and other brain defects, along with eye abnormalities leading to blindness.
What Is Microcephaly?
Microcephaly is a birth defect that affects the growth of a baby’s skull and causes children born with this defect to have smaller skulls than is typically expected. This is problematic because it indicates that the baby’s brain has not grown as much as it should have. This lack of growth impacts brain development, and babies with microcephaly can have a number of problems, such as seizures, balance and movement problems, hearing loss, and vision problems.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Baby from Zika Virus During Pregnancy
The best way to protect yourself and your baby from Zika virus during pregnancy is to avoid exposure by staying away from areas where Zika transmission has been reported. While the species of mosquito that transmits Zika virus has been found as far north as New England, at present the areas of greatest concern are Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Check the CDC’s Zika Travel Notices to learn more about specific travel warnings and areas to avoid.
If you must travel to an area where Zika has been detected, take precautions to avoid infection:
- Wear long sleeves
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellent at all times
- Stay indoors with screens and air conditioning whenever possible
If your partner has recently traveled to an area affected by Zika and has been infected, it is a good idea to use condoms for the rest of your pregnancy to ensure that the virus is not passed from your partner to you.
Get more tips from the CDC on how to protect yourself from Zika during pregnancy.
When to Contact Your Health Care Provider
- If you have recently traveled to an area affected by Zika, it is a good idea to talk with your doctor or midwife, even if you are not feeling sick. Your healthcare provider can help determine what tests might be appropriate to find out whether you have been exposed to the virus.
- If you start to exhibit any symptoms of Zika within two weeks of any travel to an affected area, call your healthcare provider right away.
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