For a pregnant woman, Zika virus is a significant concern. Though she may never manifest symptoms of infection, the virus can seriously endanger her baby. How can you tell if Zika has passed to a fetus? There isn't an easy answer.
This week, a baby was born in New Jersey with microcephaly linked to Zika virus, CNN reported. News of Zika virus spreading through the Americas is deeply worrying to anyone planning to start a family, but there still seem to be more questions than answers about the way Zika virus actually impacts a pregnancy. Because Zika virus's link to microcephaly only emerged recently, researchers have much to learn about detecting and treating infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is currently no way to tell if a fetus contracted Zika virus or determine if and when the infection could cause birth defects.
A symptomatic mom-to-be should consult with a physician and get tested. Pregnant women should pay special attention to symptoms of Zika virus, including "fever, joint pain, rash, and conjunctivitis," CBS News reported. Even if only one symptom manifests, the CDC recommends getting tested for Zika virus within one week. If a pregnant woman doesn't feel sick, she still may want to check in with her doctor if she lives in or traveled to an area where Zika virus is common; according to CBS News, they can still get a blood test to check for infection. CDC guidelines suggest that all pregnant women who may have been exposed should get tested for Zika virus regardless of the development of symptoms, The New York Times reported.
Those who live in areas with a high concentration of Zika virus infections should get tested a minimum of two times during their nine months of pregnancy. Though there isn't currently a method to detect a fetus infected with Zika virus, doctors may detect related developmental abnormalities on an ultrasound; the earliest indications of microcephaly often won't appear until at least six months in the pregnancy.
Pregnant women can take steps to prevent a Zika virus infection. Avoiding mosquito bites is key, according to the March of Dimes. A doctor can recommend precautions to take, from applying bug spray to sleeping with a bed net. It's valuable to make one's home as unfriendly to mosquitos as possible: keep still water from collecting outdoors and equip windows with screens. Because Zika virus can be sexually transmitted, it's also important to avoid unprotected sex with any partner recently exposed to infection.
If a pregnant woman is infected, anxiety is normal but there is hope: CBS News reported that not all fetuses exposed to Zika virus develop birth defects. It's important for any mom-to-be to work with her physician to ensure the best plan of action if they detect an infection.