IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Zika is Here. I'm Pregnant. What Should I Do?

What you need to know about Zika virus and pregnancy.
silhouette of pregnant woman
silhouette of pregnant womanGetty Images/iStockphoto

Pregnant women in Miami are spraying themselves with DEET, covering up and doing everything they can to avoid being bitten by Zika-infected mosquitoes.

This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised pregnant women to avoid a mile-square neighborhood in north of Miami after at least 15 people became infected with Zika virus — but even beyond southern Florida, moms-to-be may be worrying about becoming infected with the virus.

What you need to know about Zika virus and pregnancy.

How do pregnant women catch Zika?

You can get infected with Zika through bites from infected mosquitoes and any kind of unprotected sex with someone who’s infected with the virus. Health officials say there’s no evidence that Zika can be spread through coughing or sneezing or routine touching.

Can someone have Zika and not even know it?

Yes. 75 percent of people infected with Zika experience very minor or no symptoms. It can feel like a mild flu. The most common symptoms people report are:

  • rash
  • fever
  • muscle ache
  • red eyes
  • tiredness and feeling sore

Can unborn babies be harmed if the pregnant mother has Zika but feels fine?

Yes. Even without symptoms, the Zika virus is circulating in the infected mother’s body and can impact an unborn baby.

Image: Miami Neighborhood Battles Outbreak Of Zika Virus
Carlos Varas, a Miami-Dade County mosquito control inspector, uses a Golden Eagle blower to spray pesticide to kill mosquitos in the Wynwood neighborhood as the county fights to control the Zika virus outbreak.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

What’s the best way for a pregnant woman to know for sure she’s been infected?

She needs to be tested. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise that if you’re pregnant and live in or have visited an area with ongoing Zika transmission, you should get tested whether or not you have symptoms.

What test do pregnant women need?

The same tests that doctors use to help diagnose any patient suspected of having Zika.

There are two different types:

  • a blood test that looks for evidence that the body has been trying to fight off a Zika infection (antibody test).
  • a urine test that can detect the actual virus — if it’s been in the body for 2 weeks or less (PCR test).

Depending on each person’s situation, one or both tests will be done. The results usually come back in three to five days.

What about partners or husbands? Should they get tested, too?

Not routinely. But if a man has symptoms, definitely. And if he has recently travelled to a Zika zone or lives in one, it’s not a bad idea.

What should pregnant couples do to prevent passing Zika through sexual contact?

The CDC advises when a woman is pregnant, and the couple is at risk for Zika, that they use condoms for the rest of the pregnancy.

If a pregnant woman becomes infected with Zika, how likely is it that her baby will be harmed?

The most devastating birth defect caused by Zika infection is microcephaly, a severe underdevelopment of the head and brain. One study found that if a pregnant woman is infected with Zika, the risk of microcephaly in her baby can range from 1 percent to 14 percent.

Related: Is DEET Safe for Pregnant Women?

Is there a safe time during pregnancy, when a baby won’t get hurt by Zika?

Sadly, it seems not.

Experts believe that the first trimester is the most dangerous time for a fetus if the mother becomes infected because that’s when the baby’s organs start developing. Recent studies show that Zika infection in the second and even third trimester can also affect the unborn child.

What can pregnant women do to protect themselves?

The most important thing is to avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellent, long-sleeved shirts and long pants and making sure windows and doors are properly screened. Women also should avoid sex with anyone who lives in or traveled to an area with active Zika virus transmission or use condoms for the whole pregnancy.