Moms and moms-to-be look for answers on Zika

Two health experts share updates on risk factors, travel and protection tips

As summer and mosquito season hit full steam, many women who are pregnant, or couples who are considering becoming pregnant, may have concerns about the mosquito-borne Zika virus. As new information continues to emerge, Jennifer Evans, M.D., medical director of Norton Women’s Care, and Paul Schulz, M.D., system epidemiologist for Norton Healthcare, share some updates.

When are pregnant women most at risk from Zika?

According to Dr. Evans, women can be at risk for contracting Zika any time during their pregnancy, with potential significant adverse outcomes regardless of trimester.

Is Zika a concern only for pregnant women?

No. While Zika has been linked to serious birth defects, including microcephaly, infection with this virus may also cause other health issues. It has been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, an uncommon nervous system condition that can cause muscle weakness or even paralysis. The mosquito that carries Zika also is known to carry other disease-causing viruses.

Do sneezes spread the Zika virus?

No. The Aedes species of mosquito transmits Zika. Individuals who are bitten by this specific species and contract Zika are considered carriers. Symptoms may or may not be noticeable. For women, the most significant concern about becoming a carrier is the potential during pregnancy to transmit the virus to the unborn child. You also can get Zika through sex without a condom with someone infected by Zika, even if that person shows no Zika symptoms.

Isn’t the mosquito involved found only in tropical areas?

The CDC has reported instances of local mosquito-borne Zika in south Florida and Brownsville, Texas. The CDC’s ‘Areas with Zika’ page provides more details on areas involved.

What risks does the Louisville area face?

Officials have not confirmed any specific Zika-carrying mosquitoes in our area, however our warm, humid summers do not rule out this possibility at some point. Locally, Louisville Metro Health & Wellness officials encourage everyone to eliminate standing water to control mosquitoes and use insect repellant according to recommended guidelines.

Is it safe to travel to Florida and other warm weather states?

For pregnant women and couples considering conception, the CDC has issued guidance for travel, prevention, testing and preconception counseling in areas of the continental United States and Hawaii where active local Zika transmission has occurred.

How safe is it to travel outside the United States?

If you are pregnant, the CDC recommends postponing travel to areas where transmission of the Zika virus from mosquitos to people has been identified. For pregnant couples who live in or will spend extended time in an area with risk of Zika, the CDC also recommends  you either abstain from sexual activity through the remainder of the pregnancy or use barrier protection throughout that time to prevent sexual transmission of the virus.

“I would advise women to avoid travel to any known endemic area for any reason if they are pregnant or trying to get pregnant,” Dr. Schulz said.

How can I prevent mosquito bites?
  • Treat clothing with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated clothing. Follow instructions carefully. Do not use permethrin products directly on the skin.
  • Stay in places with air conditioning or window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
  • Use EPA-registered insect repellents. Always follow label instructions. Reapply as directed. Use a repellent with one of these active ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, lemon eucalyptus oil or para-methane-3,8-diol.

“Insect repellent needs to be used during the day and night,” Dr. Evans said. “Bites from mosquitos that carry Zika mainly occur during the day, as well as at dusk and dawn.”

If I’m pregnant and a mosquito bites me, what should I do?

Inform your obstetrician if you have traveled to areas that place you at risk for contracting Zika. If you have additional questions about Zika and pregnancy, talk to your health care provider.

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