Fertility Health

Zika and Pregnancy: Is it Still a Concern?

Before doing my research I was worried that Trump news, Hurricane news and the Las Vegas shooting news had simply buried the media coverage of Zika infections and pregnancy complications. That is only partially true. You should still wait at least 6 months after traveling to a Zika affected country before trying to conceive, but the CDC has reported that the prevalence of Zika is in fact on the decrease.

How long do I have to wait to start trying to get pregnant?     

Actually Zika lingers longer in semen than it does in women. The virus can live in semen for up to 6 months following exposure. However, women exposed to Zika are only considered at risk for 2 months. So ladies, this means you can do a girl’s trip to Mexico or go to your best friend’s bachelorette party 2 months before trying to conceive, but make you sure you leave your man behind.

Only Woman Travels

Wait 2 months

Only Man Travels

Wait 6 months

Woman and Man travel

Wait 6 months

 

What does the CDC have to say about the Zika Virus Outbreak?

While every women thinking about becoming pregnant has good reason to be worried about Zika, I have one fact to help ease your fears: the CDC has downgraded the risk. The CDC released an update on July 28th of this year reporting a decrease in Zika and no longer recommends that women who recently traveled to a Zika country and are trying to get pregnant be tested for Zika (source: CDC.gov). This is because the cases of Zika have been on the decline and there has been a high number of women who have positive test results, but don’t actually have Zika.

TTC + Recent Zika Exposure= No testing required

Personally. I feel reassured that we just made it through an entire summer (mosquito season) and the CDC downgraded the Zika threat. I have heard from some friends that they are concerned that hurricane season may cause an increase in Zika virus infections. However it is highly unlikely that mosquitos would be able to survive a hurricane and turn around fast enough to spread disease. The floods actually wipe out the mosquito populations (source: Weather.com). So as far as I’m concerned the good news is: we’ve made it to fall and we’re all still ok.

 

So can we travel?

That depends on you. There is still a risk. And like everything in pregnancy, you need to consider if this is a risk worth taking. If you already live in a Zika-effected area then avoiding possible exposure may not be an option. But if you are deciding between a vacation to Mexico or California, you may want to opt for California this time.

A popular misconception is that Zika is only a risk in Central and South America. But if you look at a Zika map (below) you will see it is a risk in parts of Africa, and all of South and Southeast Asia. I had no idea! We traveled to Thailand and Vietnam on our honeymoon completely oblivious to the Zika risk. Its probably a good thing I didn’t know, otherwise I would have been a neurotic crazy lady the whole time.

zika map
Map of Zika Virus from the CDC

Miami, FL & Brownsville, TX Updates

In case anyone is wondering what is going on with Miami, Florida: On June 2nd the travel advisory was lifted. So are you in the clear to go to Miami? There is always a small risk when traveling to an area with a previous ban. However there are many risks to pregnancy and this may not be the greatest one. Keep in mind though- if the ban was lifted on June 2nd, that still means you should wait to try to conceive for 6 months after the ban was lifted. So if you were in Miami on June 2nd, the recommendation is still to wait until December (source: CDC.gov).

And for Brownsville, Texas: The travel advisory was lifted on August 29th. So still a small risk, probably ok to travel there, should wait 6 months after travel before the ban was lifted (source: CDC.gov). No really sure what vacation destinations are in Brownsville, Texas, but rest assured that you can go Zika-free.

 

What if you have to travel to a Zika affected country or live in a country by it?

  1. Cover up! I know it’s hot, but it’s important to cover your skin to avoid mosquito bites. And the more skin you cover with clothing, the less poisonous bug spray you will have to use. Which brings me to my next point…
  2. Use insect repellent. Boy is this a tricky one. Insect repellent is essentially poison. While ordinarily I would avoid it, if you are traveling somewhere with Zika, I’d risk DEET exposure over Zika exposure. The recommendation is 20-30% DEET. This will provide you with all day protection. If you will only be outside for a couple hours you can use 10% DEET. Always wash your hands after applying the bug spray and then wash your skin after coming inside. And only apply buy spray to the areas of skin that aren’t covered by your clothing. Avoid the following: anything greater than 30% DEET, aerosol repellents, wristbands and candles (Renée Sharp, EWG). Some recommended products: Sawyer Controlled Repellent 20% & Cutter All Family 7% DEET
  3. Protect your environment: Use screened in porches, keep your car windows up, crank the AC.
  4. Make sure your partner is also covering up and wearing insect repellent. Don’t forget- it is transmitted sexually. So if you partner gets it, you don’t want to be stuck wearing condoms while trying to become pregnant. Those two things don’t work so well.

Decide for yourself

Personally I have missed weddings because of Zika and have planned my travel for the past year around it. Am I being overly cautious? Possibly. At the end of the day you need to talk to your partner and decide what matters to you. In our case, the risk of Zika and the idea of the “unknown risk” was scary enough for us to forego traveling to Mexico, but that isn’t the case for everyone and they aren’t necessarily wrong.

If you’re trying to get pregnant or thinking about it read my 10 Steps to Start Trying to Get Pregnant for some more information!