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February 6, 2016

Zika Virus – Useful Information for Pregnant Women

The Zika virus has featured heavily in the news over the past few of weeks, with the first reported case in Europe coming from Spain at the beginning of February. Although the disease is generally not harmful, it has been linked to problems in pregnancy and birth defects.

The World Health Organization (WHO) now reports that the Zika virus has spread through both South and Central America and expects 3-4 million people to be infected throughout 2016.

While there is yet to be any cases reported in England, it is understandable that pregnant women, particularly those who have travelled to, or are planning on travelling to, the Americas will be concerned.

Below are some facts about the virus, symptoms, and travel advice.

 

What is the Zika virus?

• It is a mosquito-borne infection
• Spread through infected mosquitoes biting humans.
• There has been one case where Zika virus may have occurred through sexual intercourse.
• A small number of cases have occurred by transmission from an expectant mother to her unborn child via the placenta.
• Potentially linked to birth defects – specifically, abnormally small heads (microcephaly).
• First detected in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947, and has circulated in Africa and South and South East Asia with few documented outbreaks
• In the last few years, outbreaks have been reported in the Pacific region, and the virus has now spread to South and Central America, and the Caribbean.
• WHO has warned that Zika virus is likely to spread to all countries in the Americas where the climate is suitable for the affected mosquitoes – currently thought to be all countries with the exception of Chile and Canada.
• The Zika virus can be diagnosed with a blood test in people who are actively displaying symptoms.
• There is no specific treatment. Drinking plenty of water and taking paracetamol may help relieve symptoms. The use of aspirin or ibuprofen is not recommended as there is a potential risk they could trigger excessive bleeding.

 

Symptoms

Symptoms are uncommon. If symptoms do occur, they are usually mild and last around two to seven days.

Commonly reported symptoms include:

• A low-grade fever
• Joint pain (with possible swelling, mainly in the smaller joints of the hands and feet)
• Itching
• Rash, which is sometimes itchy
• Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
• Headache
• Eye pain

 

Travel Advice

“Whilst it remains important for travellers to take the necessary precautions, Public Health England is stressing that any public health risk to the wider population in England is negligible, as the mosquito that transmits the virus is not found in the UK.”

(Gov.uk)

Before travelling, seek travel health advice from your GP/practice nurse or a travel clinic ideally six to eight weeks before you go. To reduce your risk of infection with Zika virus, you should avoid being bitten by an Aedes mosquito.

The most effective bite prevention methods, which should be used during daytime and nighttime hours, include:

• using insect repellent that contains D.E.E.T. on exposed skin – the repellent is safe to use during pregnancy and should be applied to skin after sunscreen is applied
• wearing loose clothing that covers your arms and legs
• sleeping under a mosquito net in areas where malaria is also a risk

Current advice is that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should discuss their travel plans with their doctor and if already pregnant to consider postponing travel to any region where a known outbreak of the Zika virus is occurring. If travel is unavoidable then they should take scrupulous insect bite avoidance measures. Public Health England are providing regular updates on the disease, and information on specific areas can be found online here, as well as from the Travel Health Pro website here.

If you are pregnant and have travelled to a country where there is an ongoing Zika virus outbreak, see your GP or midwife and mention your travel history, whether you have symptoms or not. Your midwife or hospital doctor will discuss the risk with you and will arrange an ultrasound scan of your baby to monitor growth. If there are any problems you will be referred to a specialist service for further monitoring. If you are still experiencing Zika symptoms your GP will arrange for you to have a blood test to check for the virus.

If you are at all worried that your baby may have been affected speak to your midwife or doctor for advice. If you are still concerned after that and feel anxious or stressed more than usual, you can ask your GP or midwife for referral to further counselling.

 

Sources:
Gov.uk – Zika virus: Travel advice for pregnant women
NHS.uk – Zika virus: Your questions answered

The Zika virus has featured heavily in the news over the past few of weeks, with the first reported case in Europe coming from Spain at the beginning of February. Although the disease is generally not harmful, it has been linked to problems in pregnancy and birth defects. The World Health Organization (WHO) now reports […]

 
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