Pregnant women or women looking to become pregnant should take every precaution to protect themselves against the Zika virus.
The recent CDC announcement states there is no longer any doubt that the ZIka virus, spread primarily by infected mosquitoes, causes microcephaly. Microcephaly is a condition in which a baby’s head is significantly smaller than expected, often due to abnormal brain development.
But there are still so many unanswered questions and many more patients seeking answers. As in all potential epidemics, containment is one of the first steps.
The best advice, for now, is to avoid contracting the virus and the best way to do that is to avoid areas that are known to have mosquitoes carrying the virus such as Brazil, where the Olympic Games are being held later this year. Until we have a more complete understanding of the Zika virus, its actual virulence and morbidity, reducing exposure to the rest of the planet seems a very responsible position.
In fact, the World Health Organization is expected to weigh in on travel to the Olympics since the Harvard Public Health Review recently published commentary that the Olympics must be postponed, moved, or both, as a precautionary measure.
Even some Olympic hopefuls have decided that the risk of getting the virus is too great and are considering not attending the Olympic Games.
The problem is there is so much we don’t know and there is so much that can affect a developing baby.
Minimizing the ability to contract the virus means protecting yourself against all mosquitoes. If there are husbands who are travelling to an area that is associated with Zika virus cases, they too, need to protect themselves because they could unwittingly transfer the virus to women during intercourse. That means, husbands should wear condoms at least until the end of the pregnancy.
The bottom line is we must avoid something that has an unintended consequence that could be very significant.
The virus has been around for a while, only recently have we seen such a large instance of microcephaly in one area and now convincing data links it to the Zika virus.
Many patients ask about a vaccine. The process of producing a vaccine is underway. It may be 18-24 months before it’s here but even then vaccines aren’t perfect and therefore protection is key. A good vaccine minimizes the amount of harm from the virus but it does not nullify it.
Right now, patients are given a handout with the most up-to-date information we have. We don’t want to alarm people but we want to give them information so they can make informed decisions.
Increasing awareness and avoiding exposure are the only effective tools we can offer right now.