Emerging Infectious Diseases - Zika


Infectious diseases are a leading cause of death worldwide. They are also a major cause of maternal and fetal illness and death, posing serious risks to pregnant women and their developing babies.
Infectious diseases are caused by living organisms that are all around us, including bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites. They can be transmitted through contact with an infected person, through the environment, through contaminated food or water, or through animal or insect bites.

An Emerging Threat

Of growing concern today for pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy is the Zika virus, an emerging infectious disease transmitted primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito. The Zika virus is linked to severe birth defects as well as other serious pregnancy complications.

In 2016, Florida and Texas became the first two states in the continental United States to report local transmission of the virus.  As of August 29, 2017, both areas are no longer reporting locally-acquired cases, although ongoing surveillance continues

Birth Defects and Other Potential Complications

Women who are pregnant and infected with the Zika virus are at risk of complications that include: 

  • Microcephaly, a rare neurological birth defect that causes the baby’s brain and head to be abnormally small
  • Other severe fetal brain defects
  • Babies born with vision problems, hearing loss, and problems moving limbs
  • Miscarriage
  • Stillbirth

Some fetal defects may not be obvious at birth, but emerge later in development.

If you are pregnant and you or your partner have traveled to or reside in an active Zika area, talk to your healthcare provider about your risk, prevention, and testing.

How Zika Spreads

The Zika virus can be spread through:

  • Mosquito bites from female Aedes mosquitoes infected with the virus
  • Sexual contact with an infected partner, even if no symptoms are present
  • Pregnancy, if the woman passes the virus to the developing fetus

Protecting Your Unborn Baby

There is no vaccine for the Zika virus. Prevention is crucial to reducing your risk of becoming infected.

To protect your health and the health of your unborn baby:

  • Prevent mosquito bites – wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and shoes that minimize skin exposure; use DEET-containing mosquito repellent considered safe during pregnancy; control mosquitoes inside and outside your home; avoid being outside when mosquitoes are most active
  • Avoid sex or use condoms – to prevent or reduce the risk of sexual transmission
  • Avoid traveling to areas with a risk of Zika if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy; refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for the latest Zika travel guidance and warnings

Traveling to At-Risk Areas?

If you are planning to get pregnant and you or your partner recently traveled to an area with risk of Zika, the CDC recommends consideration of the following:

  • If a woman traveled to an area with Zika virus, wait at least 8 weeks after travel or onset of symptoms (see next section) before trying to get pregnant.
  • If a man traveled to an area with Zika virus, wait at least 6 months after travel or onset of symptoms (see next section) before trying to conceive with their partner.

Symptoms of the Zika Virus

Many people infected with the Zika virus never show symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they are typically mild and last less than a week.

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint pain
  • Red eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache

Diagnosing the Virus 

Diagnosis of the Zika virus is based on:

  • Recent travel history
  • Area of residence
  • Symptoms
  • Lab testing of blood, urine, or other body fluids

What to Expect During Pregnancy

There is no medical treatment for the Zika virus itself; only the symptoms can be treated.

If you are pregnant and have been diagnosed with Zika, in general your care may include:

  • A maternal-fetal medicine physician, an OB/GYN specializing in high-risk pregnancies
  • Treatment of the virus symptoms, including fluids, rest, and over-the-counter medications for fever and pain relief
  • A fetal ultrasound or other tests to look for signs of developmental defects in the fetus
  • Ongoing monitoring of you and your baby
  • Evaluation and testing of your baby after birth

The Zika Clinic - A First in Texas

In 2016, Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women opened the Zika Clinic, a first in Texas, to ensure pregnant women at risk of contracting the virus had access to specialized, expert care for their pregnancy and their unborn baby.

We offer:

  • Maternal-fetal medicine specialists experienced in the treatment of pregnancies involving infectious diseases
  • A full-range of services, including prenatal consultations, evaluations and ongoing care, and preconception counseling to assess and reduce your risk of becoming infected before pregnancy
  • Diagnostic testing and counseling, including blood, urine, and amniotic fluid testing
  • Advanced fetal imaging for early detection of developmental defects, including targeted diagnostic ultrasounds performed as early as 15 weeks
  • Immediate access to specialized pediatric care at Texas Children’s Hospital, including Texas Children’s Fetal Center™, a national leader in treating fetal abnormalities and Texas Children’s Newborn Center, home of the level IV neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) – the highest level of care available for newborns.  This includes follow-up after delivery of affected infants with pediatric doctors who specialize in congenitally-acquired infectious diseases.
  • Physicians on the leading edge of new Zika findings through ongoing research, for the latest in Zika prevention, testing and treatment

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