Thursday, February 18, 2016

Breaking Down the Zika Virus for New and Expectant Parents

by Daniel Keith, guest blogger

There is a lot of talk in the news about the Zika virus, and everyone is chiming in including doctors, scientists, and even the Pope. There are different news articles that say it is a pandemic, and there are articles that say it’s no big deal.  I have put together some research to share with you about this virus, and what it means for you today in 2016 as new or expectant parents. If you want to skip the science and data part I completely understand, but go ahead and scroll down to the end of the article where you will find my recommendations in bold. 
A layout of a mosquito showing its body and wings form different angles
Aedes aegypti mosquito

Zika Background

The Zika virus is from the Flaviviridae family and the Flavivirus genus. It is primarily carried and transmitted by the Aedes aegypti as known as the Yellow Fever Mosquito which lives in tropical and sub tropical climates around the world. This includes areas of the southeastern United States especially near the Gulf Coast and South Atlantic areas. The virus typically includes symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes according to the CDC. Zika is considered a short term virus that your body will create antibodies for and develop immunities to within days, but it may take up to a week or two in some cases. It is also mentioned that there is currently no vaccine for humans, although there have been reports of a vaccine that is still in developmental stages. 

Zika as an STD

 It has also been confirmed that the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted. In Interim Guidelines for Preventionof Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus — United States, 2016 on the CDC’s website the article sites three cases of the Zika virus being transmitted by a male having sex with a female. Currently it is not known if a female can pass it to a male. The disconcerting part of this article is the fact that it is unkown how long the Zika virus can survive in a male's sperm. The case they have looked at confirmed that a strand of Zika virus survived for at least 10 weeks in a male’s sperm. This means if a male has visited an area that is affected by the Zika virus, as a precaution, he should abstain from sexual contact or use a condom. It is recommended that these precautions be taken until further research is done on how long the virus is considered a risk to pass via sexual contact.

Zika Complications in Infants

 A significant issue with the Zika virus is microcephaly, and its link with women who have contracted the Zika virus during or right before pregnancy. Most of the information you will hear about this comes from this article published in 2015 PossibleAssociation Between Zika Virus Infection and Microcephaly — Brazil, 2015 which can also be found on the CDC’s website. There are several important points that you need to be aware of in this article. First is that it is an incredibly small sample size. There were only 35 infants included in the study. All of the mothers had either lived in or visited Zika virus affected areas during or right before their pregnancy. 74% of the mothers experienced a rash like disease during their pregnancy, and of these 35 infants 71% of them were diagnosed with severe micocephaly. It also mentions that 27 of the infants had  neuroimaging studies, and all 27 were abnormal.

Now we need to be very careful with this raw data. The sample size is very small, and correlation does not mean causation. There are numerous factors that could not be controlled for such as diets, pollution, and other externalities that could be considered factors. That being said, it is alarming that there is a high correlation between the two. The bottom line here is that more research has to be done, and in the meantime precautions should be taken if plans are made to go to a Zika virus affected area. There are other viruses for which we routinely vaccinate in the US that are also linked to microcephaly such as herpes simplex virus and rubella virus during pregnancy.

Map of Zika virus includes parts of South America, Africa, and South East Asia
Current Map of Zika Virus Affected Areas
What if you have a baby that you are breastfeeding, and then you contract the Zika virus? According to the CDC, although evidence of the virus can been seen in breast milk, there is no documented case of passing the virus through breast milk to a nursing baby. The CDC recommends that it is better to continue breast feeding, because there is not a significant risk of passing the virus through breast milk. They state that the benefits of breast feeding far outweigh any “theoretical” risk of passing the virus to an infant or nursing baby.

If you don’t read anything else in this article make sure to read these points.

 The Zika Virus is an STD, and we do not know the amount of time that is considered “safe” for sexual contact after contraction.   
Recommendation: Abstain from sex or use a condom if you or your partner has been to an area affected by the Zika virus.  

There is a possible link between microcephaly in infants and pregnant mothers who were suspected of contracting the virus. This needs more research, but is alarming.   
Recommendation: If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant contact your healthcare provider if you or your partner has been to a Zika virus affected area.   

Although Zeka RNA has been isolated in breastmilk, there appears to be no danger whatsoever to breastfeeding infants.
Recommendation: If you are a nursing mother, and you contract the Zika virus you should continue nursing.

Daniel Keith is the creative mind and force behind Coconut designs and the Danny Coconut brand. 

1.      Zika Virus General Information:
2.      Guidelines for STD transmission of the Zika Virus:
3.      Microcephaly and the Zika Virus:
4.      Breast Feeding and the Zika Virus:

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