How to Protect Yourself from the Zika Virus While Trying to Get Pregnant

UPDATED INTERVIEW WITH DR. LARK COFFEY, AN EXPERT IN MOSQUITO-BORNE VIRUSES, FOR WOMEN TRYING TO CONCEIVE.  

We interviewed Dr. Coffey early in the summer of 2016. Due to the number of views of this post, we met with Dr. Coffey again to give you updated information for Winter 2016/2017. 

If you are trying to get pregnant, you are probably highly concerned about the Zika virus. All the news channels, big and small, have covered Zika virus, but there are still so many unanswered questions.  

Now that the Olympics have passed and outbreaks have been reported in the U.S., we met with Dr. Lark Coffey, an expert on mosquito-borne viruses, for an updated report for couples trying to conceive.  

 

Q: If I’m pregnant and get mosquito bites, what do I do?

A: Nov 2016 updated answer: Miami is the only area of the continental US where mosquito-borne transmission has been documented. If you live in the continental US outside of Miami, your risk for Zika virus infection is still extremely low.

 

Q: But I heard that there have been cases in the U.S.? Do I need to be worried?

A:  Nov 2016 updated answer: See above for details about Miami.

 

Q: My husband and I are trying to get pregnant and I want to understand how long the virus is a threat if he gets infected with it.

A:  Nov 2016 updated answer: CDC issued updated timeframes for couples trying to conceive click here. For women, they recommend waiting at least 8 weeks after symptoms start or last possible exposure.

For men, CDC suggests waiting at least 6 months after symptoms start or last possible exposure. This is because Zika virus has now been found to persist in semen for longer than originally observed.


Click below for Free Ebook on scientifically backed data on How Not to Waste Another Month when Trying to Conceive:


Q: Is this an issue I need to worry about since I live in the U.S.?  

A: Nov 2016 updated answer:  If neither you or your partner have traveled to South or Central America or the Caribbean or the Miami area or any of the countries and territories region outside the US on this map since mid-2015 or had sexual intercourse with someone who returned from one of those areas, the risk of either of you having had Zika virus is zero.

 

Q: My partner and I traveled to a Zika virus endemic area a couple months ago and now trying to conceive. Do I need to worry?

A: Nov 2016 updated answer:  Even if you were infected with Zika virus during your travels, the virus will not cause infections in a baby that is conceived after the virus has been cleared from your blood, a period that has long since passed. Nov 2016 update: No new data in the field suggests that this answer has changed.

 

Q: I keep reading about if my husband travels to the location to wear condoms, but we are trying to get pregnant! What are our options if he (or we) have traveled to a Zika infected area?

A: Nov 2016 updated answer:  I understand your conundrum. Given that Zika virus causes severe neurologic outcomes in some babies born to infected mothers, it is best to be extra careful. If your husband has to travel to a Zika virus endemic area, use condoms until he can get tested to make sure that he did not get infected during his travels. If he did not get infected, it is safe to have intercourse without risk of transmission without condoms. Click here are CDC recommendations to reduce your risk of getting bitten.  

For preventing sexual transmission, please click here.  

 

Q: Is the Zika virus really as scary as the media is making it out to be?

A: Nov 2016 updated answer: Zika virus causes microcephaly, abnormally small brains, in a small fraction of infants born to mothers who were infected during their pregnancy, an outcome that makes the virus very scary and has probably led to media attention. In South and Central America and the Caribbean, where the virus has been recently introduced and is spreading and since relatively little is known about Zika virus, clinicians and scientists are all very concerned because so many questions about Zika virus and pregnancy are unknown. 

To be extra careful since we still do not known if there is a safe time to travel during pregnancy, women at all stages of pregnancy are advised not to travel to areas with Zika virus activity.

 

Q: If I’m trying to conceive and want to travel to Zika virus endemic areas, what do I need to know?

A: Nov 2016 updated answer: The Centers for Disease Control advises women trying to conceive not to travel to endemic areas. Follow the CDC travel recommendations and plan your trip in safe areas that have no local transmission, if possible. Nov 2016 update: CDC advises pregnant women not to travel to areas with Zika virus activity.

 

Q:  I’m trying to get pregnant now, so what exactly do I need to know to protect myself?

A: Nov 2016 updated answer: Trying not to get infected is the only way to currently protect yourself. For a person in the U.S., this means not traveling to an endemic area. [this answer still holds].

 

Q: What is being done about this problem? Will they have a vaccine soon?

A:  Nov 2016 updated answer:  Scientists in the medical and research communities are working together to contribute their expertise towards developing therapies or vaccines against Zika virus. Although there are vaccine candidates in development, a safe vaccine approved for use in people requires extensive testing, which takes time. Another approach is to eliminate the species of mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus. Even EO Wilson, an ecologist who favors biodiversity, said he would be happy if mosquito vectors of human pathogens were eliminated from earth. 

 

Q: Is every pregnant woman bit by a mosquito carrying the Zika virus going to have a baby with birth defects?

A:  Nov 2016 updated answer:  No, probably a very small fraction of infants born to infected mothers will develop microcephaly or other birth defects. The reasons for different outcomes in different mothers are not known.

 

Q. Thank Dr. Coffey! Can you share with us what you are currently working on?

A:  Nov 2016 updated answer:  I study viral genetics with a goal of understanding whether Zika virus has changed since invading the Americas. There have been Zika outbreaks in Africa and Asia for over 70 years without massive outbreaks on the scale of what is now occurring in the Americas. One possible explanation for this increase in disease is that the virus in the Americas has mutated to be more efficiently transmitted by mosquitoes or cause more severe disease in people.

 

In summary, if you live in the U.S., the Zika virus established local transmission in Miami, Flordia summer 2016. Please follow the CDC guidelines to protect yourself while trying to conceive and pregnant.  We hope the interview helps to relieve you of some questions and confusion.

 

Lark L. Coffey, Ph.D.
Davis Arbovirus Research and Training
Center for Vectorborne Diseases
Assistant Professor Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology
School of Veterinary Medicine University of California, Davis