Pregnant? Planning for a baby? You may be wondering if you should be worried about the Zika virus. You’re not alone. Millions of women want to know more about this virus – and more importantly, what they can do to protect themselves and their expected bundles of joy.

Transmitted primarily by mosquitoes, Zika has spread across Latin America and some of the Caribbean, and several travel-associated cases have been confirmed in the United States.

Concerns for Pregnant Women

Pregnant women who are infected with the Zika virus can transmit it to their unborn child. Exposure to the virus may increase microcephaly risk, a condition in which the child is born with an abnormally small head. This condition is also associated with underdevelopment of the brain.

More studies are needed to determine whether there is also a connection between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the nervous system.

How the Zika Virus Spreads

Zika is mainly spread through the bite of the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. Currently, everyone in the United States with confirmed Zika cases contracted the virus during travel to Latin America or the Caribbean. Mosquitoes in the United States did not infect them.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in every five people who contracts the Zika virus will become sick for up to a week, with symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (“pink eye”) without the pus. That means an estimated 80 percent of infected people show no symptoms, but are carriers of the virus.

Prevention is Key

Currently there is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus, nor is there a medication to treat symptoms. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to prevent mosquito breeding and reduce your exposure to mosquitoes.

  • Eliminate standing water in flowerpots, buckets, barrels, old tires, kiddie pools, or any other containers that could become a mosquito breeding ground.
  • Properly chlorinate your backyard pool when it is open. Swimming pool water should be chlorinated in the range of 1-4 parts per million (ppm). This important measure helps stop mosquitoes from breeding in pool water and prevents other waterborne illnesses that can be contracted by swimmers from bacteria and other pathogens in swimming pool water.
  • Inspect and repair window and door screens to keep mosquitos from entering your home. No screens on your windows and doors? Keep them closed.
  • Aedes aegypti mosquitoes typically bite during daytime hours. When spending time outside apply an insect repellent to exposed skin and/or clothing. If using sunscreen, apply insect repellent to your skin after applying sunscreen. Opt for EPA-registered repellents containing DEET or picaridin – both of which are considered safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. The higher the concentration of DEET, the longer it will last. Use an appropriate concentration to provide protection for the length of time you will be outdoors.
  • When spending time outdoors, keep air circulating near you (from fans or natural breezes) in order to disrupt mosquito flight and reduce your risk of being bitten.
  • If you are pregnant or may become pregnant, avoid traveling to outbreak areas. Check the CDC website for travel information and warnings. If you must travel to an outbreak area, talk to your doctor about precautions you can take to avoid mosquito bites.

The Water Quality & Health Council offers helpful information about the Zika virus and strategies for prevention.