What You Need to Know About Zika Virus: Pregnancy and Sexual Transmission

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No treatment or vaccine currently exists for Zika virus. For most people who contract the virus, the illness will be mild and pass on its own in about one week. For pregnant women, however, Zika could be much more severe, particularly for their unborn babies. And it’s not just mosquitoes that transmit the virus. Jeanne Sheffield, M.D., director of maternal-fetal medicine at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, offers some tips on Zika virus relating to pregnancy and sexual transmission.

Zika Virus and Pregnancy

  • Zika virus can cross the placenta during pregnancy.
  • A pregnant woman who contracts Zika virus at any time during her pregnancy could develop serious complications for her unborn baby, including microcephaly, a condition in which the baby’s head is smaller than would be expected. The baby may also have abnormal brain development. “It just depends on when in pregnancy they are infected as to what the effects are that we are going to see,” Sheffield says.
  • If a woman who is not pregnant is infected with Zika virus, there is currently no indication that it will affect her pregnancies later in life.

Pregnancy and Travel

  • Pregnant women and women actively trying to become pregnant should avoid travel, if possible, to Zika-affected areas.
  • Pregnant women who can’t avoid traveling to areas where Zika outbreaks are taking place should consult with their obstetrician before and after the trip.
  • Those who do have to travel should use mosquito prevention measures, including staying indoors in screened-in or air-conditioned areas and applying mosquito repellent with pregnancy-safe ingredients, such as DEET.

    (See a YouTube interview below with Dr. Sheffield on Zika virus.)


     

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Sexual Transmission

  • Cases of men sexually transmitting Zika virus to women have been reported. No cases of women sexually transmitting Zika virus to men have currently been identified.
  • Women who are trying to conceive and who have a male partner who has traveled to Zika-affected areas should wait to try to become pregnant for:
    • Six months, if the partner is diagnosed with Zika virus
    • Eight weeks, if the partner was exposed but has no symptoms
  • If a woman trying to conceive travels to Zika-affected areas, she should wait at least eight weeks before becoming pregnant, regardless of symptoms.
  • Women who are pregnant and who have a partner who has traveled to Zika-affected areas should abstain from sex for the duration of pregnancy, or use condoms consistently and correctly to avoid sexual transmission of the virus.

The most important way to protect yourself from Zika virus is to stay up to date on the latest information. Please click here to view an interview with Sheffield on Zika virus. Journalists can download raw sound bites, B-roll video and an anchor script here. For answers to common questions, please visit the Johns Hopkins Medicine Zika virus information website.

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