Medical and public interest has focused on Zika virus and its effects on the unborn babies of pregnant women. Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes; this virus has been detected in countries in Central America, South America, the Caribbean and Mexico.
Zika virus usually causes mild disease (fever, rash, pink eye, joint pains) and goes away without the person needing much medical attention.
However, there may be a relationship between pregnant women having Zika virus infection, and their babies having a birth defect known as microcephaly (a head size that is much smaller than expected), which may cause significant brain damage and may be life-threatening. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has strongly advised that pregnant women do not travel or live in areas with Zika virus. If a woman has traveled or resided in a country with Zika virus during her current pregnancy, she is advised to discuss with her doctor how this may affect her baby.
Zika virus has been seen in the continental United States in travelers returning to the U.S. from regions with Zika virus. In addition, the mosquito that can spread the virus does exist here in the U.S. There is the possibility that Zika virus may be spread to non-travelers if they are bitten by mosquitoes who previously bit a Zika-infected person in the U.S.
To prevent Zika virus infection in all persons (including pregnant women), people should focus on preventing and avoiding mosquito bites – this involves wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, using plenty of approved insect repellent and avoiding being outdoors, particularly at dusk and dawn.
For more information on Zika virus, including possible effects on unborn children, please view the dedicated CDC webpage, the CDC’s Questions & Answers: Zika virus infection (Zika) and pregnancy and the CDC’s Travel Health Notices.
Dawn Nolt, M.D., M.P.H.
Clinical Associate Professor
Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital
OHSU in the news: Our experts weigh in on the Zika virus
Traveling to Mexico? OHSU shares warning over birth-defect-linked Zika virus (January 25 via Portland Business Journal)
Birth defect-causing Zika virus likely headed to U.S. (January 25 via KOIN 6)
Travel advisory for pregnant women and Zika virus expands (January 23 via Bend Bulletin)