Mosquito season has arrived for most of the United States and Canada, and this season it brings with it the threat of Zika, and Zika-linked microcephaly.  Last week Margaret (Peggy) Honein, PhD, MPH Chief of the Birth Defects Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) answered reader questions about Zika and microcephaly.  We put out a call on Facebook and Twitter for more questions, and this week Dr. Honein has more answers.

If you have a question that you’d like to see answered, you can send it to contact (at) TheScientificParent.org or you can ask in the comments.

Question: If I’m pregnant and contract Zika, what is the risk my baby will have microcephaly? Does microcephaly occur with all Zika infections during pregnancy or only with a certain percentage?
Answer

Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly and other severe fetal brain defects. This means that Zika virus infection in pregnancy increases the chances of poor pregnancy outcomes. However, Zika virus infection in a mother does not definitely mean her baby will have birth defects. We still don’t know the risk from Zika infection during pregnancy (that is, if a woman is infected, how often her fetus will have Zika-associated problems).

Question: Can you explain how Zika causes microcephaly?  I don’t understand why the virus puts a fetus at risk, but not a newborn baby.
Answer

A pregnant woman can pass Zika virus to her fetus during pregnancy or around the time of birth. Microcephaly is a condition in which a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. During pregnancy, a baby’s head grows because the baby’s brain grows. Microcephaly can occur because a baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy or has stopped growing after birth.

We do not know if a newborn who gets Zika at birth will develop microcephaly after birth, which is called acquired microcephaly.

  • Babies can acquire microcephaly if their head growth slows or fails to develop after birth.
  • There have been no reports of Zika infection around the time of birth and acquired microcephaly.

All reports of microcephaly so far have been congenital microcephaly, meaning the microcephaly occurred before birth.

Question: My husband had a confirmed Zika infection, but we’ve been trying to start our family for months.  How long should we wait before it’s safe to start trying to have a baby again?
Answer

For men who have been diagnosed with Zika or who have symptoms of Zika, including fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes, after possible exposure to Zika virus, CDC recommends

  • Men wait at least 6 months after their symptoms first appeared to try to get their female partner pregnant.

Men that use condoms correctly and consistently for vaginal, anal, and oral (mouth-to-penis) sex, or not have sex during this time period if they are concerned about the possibility of passing Zika virus to their sex partners.

Question: I traveled to the Caribbean a few months ago and got several mosquito bites and felt run-down after returning.  I was never tested for Zika, but think I might have had it, how long should I wait before trying to start a family?
Answer

For women and men thinking about conceiving who have been diagnosed with Zika or who have symptoms of Zika, including fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes, after possible exposure to Zika virus, CDC recommends

  • Women wait at least 8 weeks after their symptoms first appeared before trying to get pregnant.
  • Men wait at least 6 months after their symptoms first appeared to try to get their female partner pregnant

Men use condoms correctly and consistently for vaginal, anal, and oral (mouth-to-penis) sex, or not have sex during this time period if they are concerned about the possibility of passing Zika virus to their sex partners.

Question: How is Zika transmitted sexually?  Can you get it through saliva? Can women give it to men during sex or is it only transmitted through semen?
Answer

Zika virus can be spread during sex by a man infected with Zika to his female or male partners. It is not known if Zika can be spread from other body fluids that may be exchanged during oral sex, including saliva and vaginal fluids.

We do not know if a woman can spread Zika virus to her sex partners.

In known cases of sexual transmission

  • The men had Zika symptoms. From these cases, we know the virus can be spread when the man has symptoms, before symptoms start, and after symptoms end.
  • The men had vaginal or anal sex without a condom.

In some of the cases, the men had receptive oral sex (mouth to penis) without a condom.

Question: I’m pregnant and my partner had a confirmed Zika infection.  Is there a chance I could contract Zika from him? Should we abstain from sex for the rest of the pregnancy?
Answer

Zika virus can be sexually transmitted by a man to his partners. If you have a male partner who lives in or has traveled to an area with Zika, use a condom every time you have sex or do not have sex during the pregnancy. To be effective, condoms must be used correctly (warning: this link contains sexually graphic images) from start to finish, every time you have sex. This includes vaginal, anal, and oral (mouth-to-penis) sex.
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Categories: Disability + Disability Advocacy, Infectious Disease + Vaccines, Pregnancy, Birth + Family Planning