The Zika virus dominated the news last year. The virus can cause no or moderate symptoms, but its real danger lies in its ability to cause congenital disabilities to unborn babies. That's why we will explain to you how this happens and how to know if the country you are about to visit contains many cases affected by the virus.

What we know about the zika virus

Zika virus belongs to a family of viruses called the Flaviviridae family. It is named after the first place it was isolated in, and was first discovered in the "zika forest" in Uganda. It can spread to humans by the bites of certain mosquitoes called the Aedes mosquitoes which include aedes aegypti and aedes albopictus. These mosquitoes are active all day and night. There is a relation between zika virus and the dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses. In the past, the zika virus only existed in small areas in Asia and Africa, but it later started to spread into different countries.

zika virus mosquito


What are the symptoms of a Zika virus infection?

Zika virus can be harmless and only cause the minor flu. In many cases, there are not any symptoms. There are sometimes very mild symptoms that are hard to detect. However, this is variable, and some people will experience symptoms like fever, achy joints, rash, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The virus can only stay in your blood for a week. So it can become harmless once it leaves your bloodstream. However, it can be found in some of the body fluids including the saliva, urine, and semen. This helps the virus stay for a longer period in the body.

zika virus symptoms and treatment


Can the virus affect the baby?

Zika virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to her baby during pregnancy through the placenta. This is called congenital or intrauterine transmission. This happens when the mother is infected during the pregnancy and before the childbirth. It can also be transmitted around the time of childbirth. This is called perinatal transmission. Perinatal transmission happens when the mother is infected within two weeks before the delivery. We don't know the exact risk of transmission in this case, but Perinatal transmission can be limited to rare cases. Also, some mothers have a higher chance of transmitting zika virus than others.



Zika infection during the first trimester

When the zika virus affects a pregnant woman in the first trimester, there is a high chance for the baby to have a congenital disability. Some babies suffer from abnormalities in their brains or microcephaly. Babies who have microcephaly will be born with an abnormally small head. Other babies may suffer from eye and hearing abnormalities. We still need more time to discover all of the side effects of the viral infection since most people who were infected with zika virus didn't show any symptoms. So, it is very important to monitor the mother during pregnancy to discover any defect or dangerous condition that this virus can cause.

birth defects and zika virus


Zika infection during the second trimester

The second trimester includes the 4th, 5th and 6th months of pregnancy. During this time, babies develop well defined, visible hands, have reddish skin, develop their eyes, eyelids and their nervous system. At this stage, the baby can respond to sounds by making some moves or by increasing the pulsation of the heart. When a pregnant woman becomes infected with zika virus in the second trimester, her unborn baby has a lower chance of developing a congenital disability. It is still important for the mother to try to avoid a zika infection. If you are already affected by the virus, you should visit a health professional to make sure that everything is okay, because it is still possible for the baby to develop a congenital disability.

second trimester zika virus


Zika infection during the third trimester

The third trimester includes the 7th, 8th, and 9th months of pregnancy. The baby's organs become more and more developed. When a mother gets infected with zika virus during this trimester, her unborn baby will have the lowest risk of developing a birth defect. However, this we still need more time to do more studies, so you should still try to avoid getting infected with the zika virus

pregnancy babies zika virus


Zika infection and breastfeeding

Despite the fact that the zika virus has been discovered in the milk of affected mothers, there isn't any case reports or links to its ability to infect babies through breastfeeding. The long-term effects of zika virus are still being studied and discovered by researchers. As far as we know children and infants, who were infected with the zika virus through the bites of mosquitos, only showed no or mild symptoms. Breastfeeding is very important for the health of the baby. The benefits and advantages of breastfeeding are more important than the potential threat of the zika virus. It is very important for any pregnant woman who has a zika virus infection to talk to her doctor about breastfeeding to get the best medical care.

zika virus breastfeeding


The effect on future pregnancies

Women affected by the zika virus should wait for some time before trying to get pregnant. Zika can remain in some of the body's fluids such as the saliva and urine. It is very recommended that you wait at least eight weeks even if you didn't have any symptoms or if you only experienced mild symptoms. Sexual intercourse can also transmit the zika virus. So if the man is affected by the virus, the couple should delay their pregnancy plans for at least six months.

zika virus pregnancy


Countries affected by Zika

The WHO has classified the zika affected areas into four categories:

  • Category 1 are areas where the virus is newly found from 2015 till now or has been found again with ongoing transmission of the virus.
  • Category 2 are areas where the zika virus was found before 2015 or with current transmission.
  • Category 3 are areas where the virus has interrupted transmission. There are also potentials for spread and transmission in the future.
  • Category 4 are areas where we can find the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in. At the same time, there aren't any reports that refer to past or current transmission.

Pregnant women shouldn't travel to countries that are part of category 1 or 2.

zika virus


Steps to take after returning from a zika affected country

Prevention is better than cure. There are certain steps you should apply after coming back from a zika affected area. You should follow these steps even if you don't have any symptoms. You keep doing them for three weeks. Zika can be transmitted through any sexual activity that involves two or more people. It is very important to watch for any symptoms because zika virus may cause only mild symptoms. You should visit your doctor if you suspect that something is wrong.

zika virus countries


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