Story by: Brittany Burdoine-Lewis on June 16, 2016
My husband is currently completing his master’s degree in secondary education with a specialization in English as a second language. Part of this degree requires the completion of a clinical teaching experience.
An option for his teaching clinical was traveling to Ecuador to teach English. We researched the opportunity last fall, and in December he made the initial decision to take the trip. Soon after, we found out I was pregnant. About that same time, the Zika outbreak started hitting the news and changed our thinking about whether he should go.
Initially, we believed he would be safe to travel. However, as scientists discovered the virus could be spread through sexual contact and not just by being bitten by an infected mosquito, he chose to stay stateside to complete his clinical teaching experience.
We did a lot of research about the Zika virus before making that decision.
In April, the CDC confirmed that the Zika virus causes microcephaly and other birth defects.
Additionally, experts believe Zika is likely to spread in the U.S. as the mosquito that carries Zika has been found in 30 states. Specifically, new research identified the likely Zika hotspots in the U.S. — those in the southern part of the country have the highest risk.
I reached out to Jennifer Evans, M.D., medical director of Norton Women’s Care, and Paul Schulz, M.D., system epidemiologist for Norton Healthcare, to find out what I can do to protect myself. Here’s a Q&A from our conversations:
When are pregnant women most at risk for contracting Zika?
According to Dr. Evans, mothers can be at risk for contracting Zika at any time during their pregnancy, with potential significant adverse outcomes regardless of trimester.
What is the likelihood there will be a Zika outbreak in the Louisville area?
Dr. Schulz said the risk in the U.S. is currently unknown. The CDC is predicting the Aedes mosquito may reach Kentucky this year, and that is worrisome.
How can I protect myself?
The CDC recommends that if you are pregnant to postpone travel to areas where there is known transmission of the Zika virus from mosquitos to people.
If your partner is traveling to those areas, it is recommended you either abstain from sexual activity through the remainder of the pregnancy or use barrier protection throughout the remainder of the pregnancy 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.
Follow these guidelines to prevent mosquito bites:
•Treat clothing with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated clothing. Follow the instructions carefully when treating items. Do not use permethrin products directly on the skin.
•Stay in places with air conditioning or that use window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside.
•Use EPA-registered insect repellents. Always follow the 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.”
Additionally, Dr. Evans recommends covering exposed skin and staying in air-conditioned or screened areas.
Is it safe to travel to Florida and other warm weather states for summer vacation?
No locally acquired cases of Zika have been reported in Florida at this time. However, it is important to check the CDC website prior to travel.
What questions should I be asking my health care provider about Zika?
Dr. Evans recommends discussing travel plans with your medical provider if you are pregnant or are thinking about becoming pregnant.
If I do get bitten by a mosquito, what should I do?
Inform your obstetrician if you are bitten by a mosquito and 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.
You can also stay up-to-date on the latest information regarding the Zika virus and pregnancy by visiting the CDC’s website.
Select an appointment date and time from available spots listed below.