The upcoming winter season is expected to be warmer than usual — thanks in part to last year's El Nino event — but as the final remnants of summer fade away and the country settles in autumn, lower temperatures are already taking hold across much of the United States. The good news is that falling temperatures put an end to many bothersome insects such as mosquitos and wasps, the activity of which increases when the weather heats up. The bad news? Though the cold usually means the prospect of mosquito-transmitted viruses — like West Nile Virus and dengue fever — essentially disappear, according to The Atlantic, winter might not kill Zika, a mosquito-borne illness that can cause certain birth defects in developing fetuses as well as serious damage to adult brains.
There's still much about the Zika virus we don't understand, "we" meaning both the public and scientists. From exactly how the virus is transmitted to its apparent mutation, new discoveries about Zika are ongoing and seem to indicate a growing danger to public health. For example, one case found that Zika was spread by physical touch — specifically, through the tears or sweat of a patient with a severe infection. It was the first known occurrence of the virus being transmitted through means other than being bitten by a mosquito or having sexual intercourse with an infected person.
Though the risk of Zika is likely to decrease during the winter months, Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and the dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College, told The Atlantic:
We don’t know for sure, but I believe that the risk of Zika will resume next summer.
What does that possibility mean for women who are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant? It means you should continue following guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Avoid unnecessary travel to areas with Zika. If such travel is unavoidable, women who are thinking about becoming pregnant should wait eight weeks after returning home before trying to conceive; it's six months for men.
- Take steps to avoid getting Zika through sexual intercourse. Note: It's nothing different than protecting yourself against other sexually-transmitted infections.
- Regardless of whether you exhibit symptoms of the Zika virus, talk to your doctor about the risks to your pregnancy and your health.
It’s hard to know exactly how Zika could impact your pregnancy, but remaining vigilant about reducing your risk of contracting the virus will help ensure a safe pregnancy and delivery of a healthy baby. According to The Washington Post, the risk of infection depends largely on where you live, your personal behavior, and your knowledge of the virus. In other words: The more you know, the better.
For more Zika resources, visit the CDC website.