Guest Blog by Meg Mirivel
Zika caught the world’s attention last year when it became linked to severe birth defects. Since I am 33 weeks pregnant and work in communications at the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), I’ve thought a lot about Zika and what it means for the women of Arkansas.
Zika infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly, a birth defect that affects a baby’s brain development for the rest of her life. Zika may also cause developmental issues that we don’t know about yet. Health departments around the nation, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are monitoring affected babies to try to better understand Zika.
If it were not for Zika’s effects on infants, it would receive little attention. Zika is a mild disease that is caused mainly by mosquito bites, but can also be transmitted sexually. Around 80% of people who get Zika will not experience symptoms.
So far, all of the cases of Zika diagnosed in Arkansas have been travel-related, which means the disease was acquired out of the state. Much of South America, Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands, along with parts of Africa and Asia, have mosquitoes that are actively spreading Zika. Last year, both Miami, Florida, and the southern tip of Texas had locally-acquired cases.
The CDC and ADH have issued strong travel guidance to pregnant women, urging them not to travel to areas where Zika is being transmitted. We are currently entering honeymoon and summer vacation season. If you are pregnant, choose a location without active Zika transmission. If you are planning to become pregnant or might become pregnant, you should also consider traveling somewhere without Zika. If you do decide to go, take steps to protect yourself. We know that around 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, so anyone who is sexually active should be aware of the travel risk.
Trust me, I know that restricting travel to these beautiful places when you have the opportunity is tough. I love to travel, and when my mother-in-law invited my family on a trip to the Caribbean last summer we were tempted to go. However, we knew we were going to try to have another baby and decided to hold off on the trip. This year – now that I am pregnant – we took our vacation within the country – the risk was too great.