The number of people being infected with Zika is gradually on a rise in the country. The first outbreak in India was reported in Ahmedabad in January 2017, followed by other places in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In Rajasthan, in particular, more than 153 cases were reported by the Union Health Ministry, in October and November. Of these, 23 cases were reportedly that of pregnant women.
And now, the United States’ health protection agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has issued an alert for pregnant women, asking them to not travel to India, especially Rajasthan, classifying the risk at level 2, requiring enhanced protection. So, here’s everything you need to know about how the Zika virus impacts pregnant women and newborns.
What is Zika?
According to World Health Organisation, Zika is a mosquito-borne disease transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito. It is the same species of mosquitoes that also transmits vector-borne diseases including dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.
How can pregnant women contract the Zika virus disease?
The place a person is staying at, and the travel history of the partners engaging in sexual intercourse, can affect the chances of being infected. Zika can be transmitted through sex from an infected person to his or her sex partners. This includes vaginal, anal, and oral sex, and also the sharing of sex toys. The virus can stay in semen for a longer period as compared to other body fluids, as mentioned by CDC.
Symptoms of Zika virus disease
Among the common symptoms for the disease, as per World Health Organisation, are “mild fever, skin rash, headache, muscle and joint pain and inflammation of the underside of the eyelid”. People, however, may or may not show symptoms of the disease, like fever, cough and cold, Dr Sushma Tomar, Consultant Obstretician and Gynaecologist, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan, told Express Parenting. “Most symptoms are mild or they aren’t there at all,” she said.
How can it affect pregnant women and their foetus?
CDC also mentions how the risk of infection among pregnant women is the most during the first trimester, and becomes comparatively lesser with every trimester. An infected pregnant woman can also pass the infection to her foetus, leading to birth defects. “The developing foetus is at a risk of developing congenital abnormalities because of the virus,” Dr Tomar said.
A Zika virus infection can lead to mircrocephaly, whereby a baby’s brain is underdeveloped during pregnancy or its growth stops after birth. “Normally, the circumference of a baby’s head at birth is 35cm. But for babies, who are delivered by a Zika virus-infected mother, the size of the head is smaller, Dr Kumar Salvi, consultant pediatrician and neonatologist, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, told Express Parenting. Other brain defects comprise decreased brain tissue, damage to the back of the eye, joints with limited motion or excessive muscle tone restricting body movement after birth, as per CDC.
Can you prevent it?
There’s no vaccine or medicine available for Zika. Dr Tomar added, “While a pregnant woman undergoes symptomatic treatment, once it affects the foetus, there’s not really a way to prevent it.” However, you can always take precautions.
What precautions can you take?
A pregnant woman, who is at risk for Zika, should use protection or avoid having sex during pregnancy. Couples, who are planning a pregnancy, should also be careful and use protection for sex.
Dr Salvi added, “All national health authorities usually put up travel advisories for the Zika virus infection, to avoid travelling to a particular area. And in case a woman is visiting any place where the Zika virus is prevalent, it is always advisable to avoid getting pregnant during that time.”
Other than that, one should also take care to avoid mosquito bites by using a repellent, cleaning and covering containers holding water to prevent breeding of mosquitoes, and wear light-coloured clothes, among other precautions.