Avoiding and Coping with a Zika Pregnancy

SSPost7:23:18Avoiding and Coping with a Zika Pregnancy

It can be a terrifying thing to learn that your baby could have serious birth defects just because of a mosquito bite during pregnancy. But in many areas around the world – including the U.S. – the possibility of being infected with the zika virus is real. What exactly is a zika pregnancy, and how can you (and your baby) avoid it?

How zika is spread

The zika virus is spread by two ways: if a person is bit by an infected mosquito or by having intercourse with a partner who is infected with the virus. This can be especially dangerous for pregnant women who can pass the virus on to baby. Even if you don’t live in an area where zika is confirmed, you can still become infected if you travel to one of these places.

Though there are no medications or vaccines for the zika virus, the best thing a pregnant woman can do is to avoid infection altogether. Using insect repellant and wearing long sleeves and pants can help prevent mosquito bites. Always use condoms if you or your partner could be infected and avoid traveling during pregnancy to areas where zika is present.

Zika-related birth defects

Birth defects resulting from zika infection can be very severe. Not all babies whose mothers have tested positive for zika will suffer health problems, but the risk does increase. When their mothers are infected with the virus during a zika pregnancy, about 10% of babies have birth defects caused by zika. That ratio increases to 15% if mother was infected sometime during the first trimester. Zika-related birth defects include:

  • Microcephaly – Meaning “small head”, microcephaly happens when baby’s head is smaller than average. This can happen because the brain stops growing during pregnancy or after birth.
  • Congenital Zika Syndrome – Named “congenital” because the condition is present at birth, congenital zika syndrome can cause serious, permanent health problems for baby. One or more of the following six characteristics may develop in a baby with congenital zika syndrome:
    • Microcephaly
    • Brain tissue damage
    • Vision and hearing problems
    • Excess muscle tone limiting baby’s ability to move
    • Issues with the joints
    • Seizures
  • Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) – Research by the CDC indicates that the zika virus is associated with GBS, a condition in which a person’s own immune system attacks the nervous system. This can lead to muscle weakness or paralysis.

If your baby is infected with zika

It is undeniably horrible to discover your baby is infected with the zika virus. Your baby could experience developmental delays and have difficulty eating, swallowing, sleeping, sitting, and walking. After birth – whether your baby has obvious symptoms of the virus or not – you can expect your baby to undergo health screenings and testing. If your little one requires specialized care, a specialist – such as a pulmonologist or neurologist – might be able to help. Emotional support groups can provide therapy and address concerns you and/or other family members may have.

Do you know someone who is affected by the zika virus? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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