With all the headlines about the Zika virus in the news, it can be difficult to understand what it’s all about or if there’s a cause for concern. Women who are pregnant, or expecting to become pregnant, may be especially worried by what they’re hearing.
But don’t worry, for women living in Colorado who have not traveled to South or Central America and been bitten by mosquitoes, there is virtually no risk to you. But, what exactly is the Zika virus and what do you need to know?
“The Zika virus is a class of virus similar to Dengue or Yellow Fever,” says Katie Rustici, MD, FACOG, Stapleton OBGYN. “It is transmitted primarily through mosquito bites, but has also been spread through unprotected sexual contact with an infected person. Scientists are investigating a possible association between Zika and Microcephaly, where babies are born with small heads and improper brain development, and between Zika and Gullian-Barre, a neurological disease. However, these links have not yet been proven.”
While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) continue to research this possible correlation and develop a vaccine, the WHO has issued a global health emergency. Women of reproductive age are encouraged to take precautions to limit their exposure to mosquitoes and some are choosing to forgo travel to affected regions.
“If you’re worried that you may have been exposed to the Zika virus, begin by asking yourself these questions,” says Dr. Rustici. “Have you recently been to one of the countries affected by this virus? If so, were you bitten by a mosquito and/or developed joint pain or an illness while there? If not, your risk is exceedingly low and the CDC does not recommend any additional testing.”
For women who answered yes to these questions, it is recommended that you contact your provider. Doctors can perform a basic blood test to determine if you’ve been exposed to the class of virus that includes Zika. If someone has been exposed, further tests may be ordered.
While the risk to women in Colorado is currently extremely low, as summertime approaches use precautions to limit your exposure to mosquitoes. This includes using a repellant with Deet, wearing long sleeves and pants to limit skin exposure, and staying in air conditioned spaces as much as possible. While the mosquito that carries this virus cannot live in this climate, it is possible that people who have been to other countries could bring the virus here and mosquitoes could then spread the infection.
“The key is that if you haven’t been to one of these countries and been bitten by a mosquito or had an illness, then there is nearly no risk. However, for patients who are concerned, or pregnant, talk to your provider. They’ll be able to determine if you have risk that needs further testing or not,” says Dr. Rustici.