The Zika virus outbreak is expected to expand this summer, and that has pregnant Americans worried about possibly transmitting Zika to their unborn babies. But will having Zika keep you from having a baby forever? Good news! The virus is only an issue for about three weeks. Vox spoke to Scott Weaver, director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas, who's been studying Zika for eight years, and he offered some hope for women who are planning on starting (or expanding) their families.
Weaver said that the maximum incubation period for Zika is thought to be 12 days, meaning that in can take that long from when a patient is infected until they start showing symptoms (although many never show symptoms at all). These symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, conjunctivitis, muscle pain, and headache. The symptoms tend to last for about a week, and all told, the virus is expected to be out of a patient's system after about 21 days from the date of the initial infection. Although there's still research to be done, based on what's known about similar diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that once a person has been infected with Zika, they're immune from future infections, and there's no risk of birth defects in pregnancies that begin after the virus has run its course.
Zika infection during pregnancy has been definitively linked to birth defects such as microcephaly, and there's currently no vaccine or cure for Zika, so there are two important things that those who can become pregnant need to do. First, avoid getting infected. For those who live in Zika-affected areas (or areas where Zika may spread), this means protecting yourself and your home from mosquitoes using pesticides and insect repellents, and preventing mosquitoes by eliminating standing water on your property, and using air conditioners or window screens. Zika can also be sexually transmitted from men, so this isn't just a women's issue.
The second way to avoid microcephaly and other Zika-related birth defects is to prevent pregnancy. According to the CDC, those looking for a reversible method of birth control should consider using a hormonal intrauterine device (such as Mirena or Skyla). Failure rates for hormonal IUDs are typically only 0.2 percent (compared to a 9 percent failure rate for the pill or 18 percent for condoms). Women who are unable to use hormonal birth control might consider a copper IUD, which has a similar failure rate of just 0.8 percent. Once the threat of Zika is no longer an issue, the IUD can be removed and you can get pregnant right away. Considering the potential risks involved with Zika and pregnancy, it might be best to hold off for a while.