The Women’s OB/GYN Medical Group of Santa Rosa Shares Latest Facts about Zika Virus

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The OB/GYN Medical Group gives an overview of the Zika virus, what women should consider before becoming pregnant and what pregnant women who may have been exposed to the virus should do.

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The real concern with the Zika virus happens when a pregnant woman is infected.

Under normal circumstances, an expectant mother intent on delivering a healthy baby might be warned by their OB/GYN to adopt a healthier diet, stay fit and avoid alcohol. Today, every woman who is either thinking of conceiving or presently pregnant is no doubt tuned into a brand new danger associated with childbearing, namely – the Zika virus. Nothing induces fear in the heart of a pregnant woman quite like a threat to their unborn baby. By all reports, the Zika virus is at once invisible, nearly indictable and insidious. But is there really anything about this virus to concern women in the U.S.? Is it all hype or are there precautions that can be taken? The Women's OB/GYN Medical Group provides some answers.

What is Zika Virus?

According to the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the Zika virus disease is caused by a virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. Overriding symptoms of infection include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. In healthy people, the symptoms are generally mild and last for up to a week. People infected with Zika normally recover quickly and rarely get so sick that they require medical care or hospitalization. Symptoms are so mild in most people, in fact, that people might not know that they have been infected, or suspect that their symptoms stem from a mosquito bite. Following infection and recovery, immunity to the disease results.

Zika Virus and Pregnancy

The real concern with Zika happens when a pregnant woman is infected. Until recently, the primary way for a pregnant women to become infected was thought to be through an encounter with an infected mosquito. It is now known that the Zika virus can be spread to a woman by her male sex partner. When a pregnant woman has become infected, she can then pass the Zika virus to her unborn fetus - either during pregnancy or at the time of delivery. Health officials have recently begun to suspect that infection in pregnancy can also lead to an increased rate of miscarriages.

The results can be devastating for both the mother and the child, as there is increasing evidence that Zika infections lead to microcephaly. Microcephaly is a birth defect that causes the baby’s head to be severely underdeveloped. Microcephaly also results in a smaller brain and the child will likely not develop normally.

So far, experts contend that no local mosquito-borne Zika virus disease cases have occurred in U.S., although there have been a number of travel related cases. With 80 percent of all cases going undiagnosed (due to the mild nature of the infection), the number of travelers returning to the U.S. who have encountered the virus may continue to rise. The CDC says that the most disturbing outbreaks may have begun showing up in Brazil, but now they are occurring in countries all over the world, particularly those with wetter, warmer climates. At this point, there’s no telling where the virus will spread to, but the list of countries for pregnant women to avoid at the moment include: Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Guyana, Cape Verde, and Samoa, according to the CDC.

What is the risk of becoming infected in the U.S.?

The National Science Foundation has just released a map of the states most likely to encounter the Zika virus. Although still a projection of what may be a possibility, the research team ran two computer models to determine the potential risk in the mainland United States. According to that map, the lower southern and eastern portion of the U.S. where temperatures are mildest are the most at risk. And the risks are expected to continue to rise as the hot summer months get closer.

Protecting Against Zika

The CDC advises pregnant women to delay or avoid travel to any known area where the Zika virus is spreading. And if avoiding travel is not an option, they recommend discussing plans with a healthcare provider prior to departure, and to strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites while traveling. At this point, pregnant women with male partners living in or traveling to a known Zika virus area should take precautions by using condoms or avoid having sex during pregnancy.

Women are also advised to talk to a healthcare provider if they have recently returned from an area known to have a problem with Zika, regardless of whether or not they have been sick. If the Zika virus infection is suspected, the patient can be tested by a healthcare provider for the virus. If tests confirm infection, ultrasounds can be employed to monitor the fetus' development, and an OB/GYN practitioner should closely follow the case. The CDC also recommends that an infectious disease specialist with expertise in pregnancy management become involved.

About Women’s OBGYN Medical Group

The provider team of expert OB/GYN physicians, certified nurse midwives, family nurse practitioners, and medical assistants provides unmatched care to patients in our region. As women proudly serving women, we understand the needs and expectations of our patients. For more information, visit our website or call (707) 579-1102. We urge you to contact our office to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians if you have any concerns about your pregnancy and the Zika virus.

Resources: Miscarriages … of American women with Zika Virus

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John Beilharz
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Northern California Medical Associates
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