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The World Health Organization (WHO) says research has strengthened the association between Zika infection and the occurrence of birth defects and neurological disorders. Transmission of Zika virus is primarily by an infected mosquito however; researchers say new information suggests that sexual transmission of the virus is more common than previously assumed.
Mayo Clinic infectious diseases specialist Dr. Pritish Tosh says while 80 percent of those infected with Zika are asymptomatic, the concern continues to be for pregnant women and their unborn children. Questions about whether a women should wait before getting pregnant after visiting a Zika endemic area and for how long, are some of the questions global health researchers are investigating. Zika has been linked microcephaly, a birth defect that results in babies being born with smaller-than-normal heads.
Dr. Pritish Tosh says, "We do know that, in general, once somebody is bitten by an infected mosquito, it usually takes a week for them to have symptoms and usually a week later the virus is gone from their body. And, based on that information, the WHO has recommended that people wait at least two to four weeks after coming back before considering getting pregnant."
The question remains: What is the right amount of time we can be confident that there is little to no risk of microcephaly caused by Zika in an unborn child? Dr. Tosh says, "Right now, we don’t have the data to answer that question, and for that reason, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have not put out specific guidance yet on how long couples should wait. They know this is a burning question, and they’re working very diligently on looking at the epidemiologic data to hopefully provide that answer as soon as feasible."
The CDC recommends that pregnant woman consider delaying travel to Zika endemic areas. If you must travel, take strict steps to avoid mosquito bites by wearing protective clothing; treating clothing and gear with permethrin or purchasing permethrin- treated items and using insect repellents registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group is developing a vaccine to protect against Zika virus. There is currently no vaccine for the virus and no treatment for stemming potential birth defects once a woman has been infected.