If you’re pregnant—or planning to conceive—the Zika virus is certainly a top-of-mind concern at the moment: This mosquito-borne virus is dominating news headlines with its terrifying multi-country advance and possible destructive consequences for expectant mothers and their babies.

Zika surfaced approximately a year before now in South America and Brazil has been strangely affected, with a large number of babies suffering severe birth defects, such as brain damage. The disease has now spread to over three dozen countries and territories in the Americas, and has not too long ago landed in the Asia countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand etc) by returning travelers from affected regions

What is Zika virus?

The Zika virus is an insect-borne disease which is mainly transmitted by infected Aedes mosquitoes, the same type that carries dengue and yellow fever. The name originates from the Zika Forest in Uganda where the virus was found in 1947.

Why is it dangerous?

For the relatively few people who show signs of a Zika infection, the disease is often very mild. However in pregnant women, the effects are usually disastrous, and can include pregnancy loss or perhaps a baby born with an abnormally small head and brain—a condition known as microcephaly. This condition may be associated with mental retardation, seizures and developmental delays and in some instances can be fatal.

Until lately, Zika virus had only been linked with significant risk to the fetus. But now the news has changed and there are reports of direct link between Zika and microcephaly. Although there are still some grey areas—including the possibility of an infection in a pregnant woman being passed on to her fetus.

While the Zika virus typically stays in the blood of an infected person for a few days to a week, there’s no evidence presently to suggest that it still has the potential to pose any risk in future pregnancies. And the virus won’t cause infections in a baby that’s conceived after it has left the bloodstream.

How is Zika transmitted?

The virus is mainly transmitted through the bite of infected mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites and draws blood from a person who’s infected, the mosquito itself gets infected and then proceeds to bite other people.

The Zika virus may well also be transmitted from mother to baby in pregnancy or around the time of birth but there are no clinical tests to determine the danger to an unborn child if the mother is infected. In unusual circumstances, the Zika virus could possibly be passed along through a blood transfusion.

What are the symptoms of Zika?

Zika infection is just like a moderate case of the flu and normally include such symptoms like a fever, headache, rash, muscle and joint pain, and conjunctivitis .Symptoms may survive for a couple of days or even up to a week.

Reducing the risk

Public health professional now direct pregnant women to be very cautious when considering having sex with a partner who has traveled to a location affected by Zika, Partners are advised to make use of condoms during all forms of sexual activities to lessen the risk of possible transmission or abstain completely throughout the pregnancy.

If travel is an unavoidable option couples are advised to take every safety measure to prevent mosquito bites: such safety measures might well include:

  • Wearing tops with long sleeves and trousers, instead of shorts pants
  • Using bug spray with DEET that is safe for pregnant and nursing mothers, check the label and follow the directions
  • Treating clothes with permethrin, a kind of insecticide.