The Zika virus is reported to have first been discovered in humans in 1952 in Uganda. The virus is transmitted primarily by Aedes mosquitoes – the same mosquitoes that spread dengue fever, yellow fever and a host of other viruses and diseases.
Symptoms of Zika include a skin rash, muscle and joint pain, conjunctivitis, headache, malaise and a mild fever. The symptoms usually last for between two and seven days.
In early 2015, reports began to circulate of a widespread epidemic of Zika fever in Brazil. The virus spread from there to other parts of South and Central America, as far north as Mexico and as far south as Paraguay. Those countries continue to experience increasing or widespread transmission. The same is true in several countries in Southeast Asia.
The Zika virus and pregnancy
Women who are trying to conceive should be very cautious about travelling to a country where Zika is present. In July 2015, medical experts in Brazil reported a link between Zika infection and Guillain-Barré syndrome, a very rare and serious condition that affects the nerves, mainly in the hands, feet and limbs.
In October 2015, Brazil also reported a connection between Zika and microcephaly, a rare congenital condition where the baby’s head is smaller than expected and where brain development is incomplete. According to the World Health Organization, links between the Zika virus and other neurological complications are currently under investigation.
Advice for women trying to conceive
Women who are pregnant or who are trying to conceive are advised to avoid travel to areas at high risk of Zika virus transmission. They are also advised to avoid traveling to areas at moderate risk of Zika transmission.
If such travel cannot be avoided, women are advised to wear loose clothing that fully covers their arms and legs and to use insect repellent in order to minimize their chances of being bitten by mosquitoes.
It is strongly recommended that attempts to conceive be postponed by those women traveling to areas at high and moderate risk of Zika virus transmission. This includes for the duration of their trip and for eight weeks after they return home. Women who experience symptoms of Zika fever after they return home (the symptoms should arise within two weeks of arriving home), should wait until they are fully recovered, and then wait a further eight weeks, before trying to conceive.
Women whose partner has traveled to a country with high or moderate risk of Zika transmission should also avoid trying to conceive. In these cases, attempts at conception should be postponed for six months after the partner returns home, or for six months after he fully recovers from the symptoms if he develops Zika fever once home. Contraception during sex is recommended for the duration of the six months as Zika virus RNA has been found in semen up to 188 days after symptoms of Zika began, and also because sexual transmission of the virus has been reported to occur through sexual transmission from men who showed no symptoms of Zika fever.
The effects of Zika on women trying to conceive
Women who are trying to conceive should be in good health as this helps to maximize their chances of getting pregnant. The effects of any virus can be unfortunate news when it comes to trying to get pregnant. With Zika, where the woman can transmit the virus to her fetus if she becomes pregnant, the effects can be extremely serious.
The emotional distress of excessive worrying about potential Zika infection can also have a negative impact on pregnancy outcomes. Anyone who is concerned about having been exposed to Zika virus during the periconceptional period should speak to their doctor about being tested for Zika infection.
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