According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), pregnant women have the same risk of being infected with Zika virus, which is transmitted by the bite of infected Aedes mosquitoes, as the general population.
Women who do not develop any symptoms may remain unaware that they have the virus. Only one in four people infected with Zika develops symptoms, which are usually mild.
The main cause of concern related to Zika is the potential negative pregnancy outcomes that can have grave impacts on the mother, newborn, and family. WHO offers guidance for health care providers on psychosocial support that they can provide to pregnant women with suspected or confirmed Zika virus infection, those who know they are carrying a child with suspected microcephaly, and caregivers and families of an infant with microcephaly.
It is imperative that health care providers and allied health professionals (for example, physicians, nurses, midwives, social workers) are up to date on the latest information about Zika so that they can provide accurate information to their patients. This is especially important now, when our knowledge about Zika is continually evolving.
What do we know for sure?
- Zika virus can be spread during vaginal, anal, and oral sex by a man infected with Zika to his partners.
- In cases of sexual transmission, the men who transmitted the Zika virus displayed symptoms. A man can transmit the Zika virus to his partner before symptoms start, while he has symptoms, and after symptoms end.
- The virus can stay in semen longer than in blood.
A number of studies are currently underway to shed light on what we don’t know, including the following questions:
- How likely is a pregnant woman exposed to Zika to be infected?
- How likely is an infected pregnant woman to have negative pregnancy outcomes?
- How long can the Zika virus stay in the semen of an infected man or be spread through sex?
- Can a man who is infected with Zika but never develops symptoms spread Zika through sex?
- Can a woman infected by the Zika virus spread the virus to her sex partners?
Given that our understanding of the virus is regularly changing, health care providers must seek out opportunities to continuously update their knowledge about Zika. There are a number of great, free opportunities to do so:
- A webinar, titled “Zika Toolkit: Expanding Access to Quality Family Planning and Zika-related Care,” led by the Office of Population Affairs of the US Department of Health & Human Services, Wednesday, July 13, 2016, at 1:00 pm ET
- A webinar, titled “Biting Back: Contraception and Zika Prevention,” led by Melissa Kottke, MD, MPH, MBA (Emory University/USA), Thursday, July 21, 2016, at 3:00 pm ET
- Archived webinars, such as “Zika and Reproductive Health: A Focus on Non-pregnant Women and Men of Reproductive Age,” led by the Office of Population Affairs of the US Department of Health & Human Services
- Three-week online course, titled “Preventing the Zika Virus: Understanding and Controlling the Aedes Mosquito,” led by London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine with the Arthropod Control Product Test Centre (arctec), started July 4, 2016
- An online course, titled “Atención a Enfermedades Transmitidas por Vector (ETV),” led by el Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública, México