Will Zika Zap Your Pregnancy Dreams?

Zika has become a pretty big buzzkill for any woman living in a Zika-infested area who wants to get pregnant. Having a baby has pretty much become a “no go” for women who live in certain parts of the world. In fact, in some areas (cue El Salvador), women are being advised to wait two years before expanding their family. And no matter how you look at it, that’s a serious time out.

The reason that this red light won’t change to green is that Zika can cause some pretty poor pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage, microcephaly, and brain and eye abnormalities. And unfortunately, Zika doesn’t discriminate. It is an equal-opportunity infector. Whenever you meet the Zika virus (a.k.a. your first, second, or third trimester), it can cause you problems. So in order to stay protected, here’s our advice on how to avoid getting bitten.

First things first, no matter how bad you need some beachside R&R and a tan, there are some places that women and men who are planning an upcoming pregnancy shouldn’t go. No matter how cheap those airline tickets are, now is just not the right time. If you are planning on getting pregnant, plan on looking at the Zika map before you plan your trip. And because that map is constantly changing, we not only recommend you check it before you board that plane but also be smart and buy some travel insurance! And if you live in a Zika-infested area, talk to your OB/GYN before you give the baby thing a go. Ideally, waiting (or seeking fertility assistance to preserve your fertility) is your best and safest bet.

If you must go to a Zika-infested area and you have babies on the brain, you must wear bug repellant—an Environmental Protection Agency-approved bug spray with DEET—all over. You should also cover any exposed skin, stay in air-conditioned or screened-in areas, and treat your clothing with permethrin (an insecticide). Follow these rules whether it is night or day, and make sure to reapply. What to do when you get home (a.k.a. how long must you wait before trying) depends on what happened while you were away….

Scenario A: You find yourself a victim to the mosquito and come down with Zika (a.k.a. have the symptoms and test positive). This means you will need a lot more than anti-itch cream. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recommends waiting six months after the start of the symptoms to give the baby thing a go. For men who contract the Zika virus, the time-out period is no different. Your guy will be sitting on the sidelines for six months before he can try to get you pregnant. And while you are in this holding pattern, you should abstain from intimate sexual contact (vaginal, anal, or oral intercourse) or use a barrier method. Condoms are key to reducing the risk of Zika transmission. Protection is the key to prevention!

Scenario B: You may have Zika. You got bitten by something while in Puerto Rico, for example, but don’t know if it was Aedes (the Zika specific mosquito) or just an annoying mosquito. You don’t have any symptoms, but you are scared! The ASRM is recommending that you stroll on down to your local lab and get Zika testing (a viral RNA test) within two weeks of the bite/trip.

If you come back negative, while it is a relief, you are not off the hook just yet. The ASRM recommends repeat testing eight weeks later. If this test is negative, you are in the positive for attempting pregnancy. Although no test is 100% accurate (Zika can still reside in semen or bodily fluids even with a negative test), the double negatives should help you breathe a big sigh of relief. But remember, while in limbo land (arriving home and awaiting the second test eight weeks later), it’s best to use condoms or abstain. This will ensure that you protect yourself from potentially contracting or passing on the Zika virus.  

Scenario C: You don’t find yourself a victim of the big Z, but you are at risk for exposure (a.k.a. you traveled to a Zika-infected area but have no symptoms consistent with Zika). Individuals in this situation should adhere to the same guidelines as our friends in Scenario B. You should strongly consider getting Zika viral testing, even if insurance won’t pay for it, upon your arrival home and then again eight weeks later. And just like scenario B, during the eight-week waiting period, protection (condoms) is your best bet.

And while the medical world and Zika have done some serious speed dating (a.k.a. we already know a lot about Zika), there is still much that is unknown, particularly when it comes to how long Zika can remain in our systems (LINK: Buzz on Zika). As a result of the unknowns when it comes to Zika, we are uber-conservative (and we are not talking politics!)

We have read the recommendations from the three big candidates: the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the ASRM. We have chosen to vote for the lattermost. If our views are too harsh and you are pulling the lever for the CDC or ACOG (they suggest women only wait eight weeks after getting Zika to start trying again rather than six months), that’s okay. Just make sure to check with your OB/GYN. His or her voice matters when it comes to your vote!