The Zika Virus and Fertility Treatment – Southern Arizona fertility clinic
If you’ve been following the news, you’ve probably seen the explosion of information about the Zika virus. You may have many questions. Is this a new virus? Where did it come from? How does it affect pregnant women? We’ve been hearing many patients ask questions about Zika at our Southern Arizona fertility clinic, so we’d like to clear a few things up.
Is Zika a new virus?
Zika is actually not new at all. It was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda, where it was found in monkeys. The first human cases were reported in 1952. So Zika has been known about for a long time. What’s new is the degree to which Zika is now spreading. There was a sharp rise in cases of Zika in 2015 and 2016, especially in certain areas like Brazil. Zika was also found to be linked to certain serious health problems, when previously it had been believed to be a mild illness. That’s why there’s suddenly a lot of attention on Zika.
Not much research has previously been done on Zika, so scientists are only now learning about this virus. The science of Zika is evolving as more and more research is done. Much of what we know is still somewhat tentative. Not enough research has been done to be sure about some of this information.
How is Zika spread?
The primary mode of transmission for Zika is through the bite of an infected mosquito. The same mosquito that transmits Zika can also transmit other diseases, such as dengue fever, which can be deadly.
Zika can also be transmitted sexually. The Zika virus can remain in the body for several months after a person becomes infected, and it can be detected in the sexual fluids, which have been shown to transmit the virus in some cases. It’s currently not known whether there are differences in the diseases produced by sexually-transmitted and mosquito-transmitted Zika.
What problems does Zika cause?
For most adults, when they get Zika, they’ll never experience any symptoms at all. For those that do have symptoms, most have only a flu-like illness. This causes symptoms like fever, body aches, and a rash, and resolves itself after about a week.
However, there are some more serious disease conditions that have been linked to Zika. Some people get Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a neurological condition that’s also linked to other types of viral infection (including influenza, or “the flu”). It affects the nerves, causing tingling and weakness of the arms and legs. It can even result in paralysis and respiratory failure. Fortunately, people with Guillain-Barré do get better, but they need medical care (including hospitalization, because of how quickly it can worsen into respiratory failure).
More relevant to our patients is the link between Zika and birth defects. Zika is linked to a condition called microcephaly, in which the baby is born with an underdeveloped brain and has a very small head. This is a very serious birth defect, which causes lifelong problems and can be life-threatening. It can happen if a mother is infected while pregnant, or if she gets pregnant while the virus is still inside of her body. Not every baby whose mother is infected with Zika has birth defects. Scientists still aren’t sure why some babies are affected and others aren’t, or exactly how big the risk is.
What does this mean for fertility patients?
If you plan to get pregnant in the next few months, it’s strongly advised that you avoid travel to areas where Zika virus transmission through mosquitoes has been known to occur. Currently, that includes the Caribbean, Central and South America, parts of the South Pacific, and parts of Africa. (You can check here to see the latest CDC information about where Zika is currently being found.)
Women who may have been exposed to Zika
It’s advised that women who have traveled to these regions wait at least two months before they try to get pregnant. That’s because Zika can cause no symptoms or very mild symptoms in many infected people. This makes it very possible to have Zika and not know it. Even if you don’t think that you contracted Zika while traveling, it’s best to wait two months for your baby’s safety. This applies not only to natural conception, but also to any type of assisted conception, because any Zika virus in the mother’s blood could still affect a baby conceived through IUI or IVF.
Men who may have been exposed to Zika
For men who have traveled to these regions, but have not had symptoms of Zika or tested positive for the virus, it’s also advised to wait two months before trying to get a partner pregnant, for the same reasons. Even if your partner hasn’t traveled, remember that Zika can be transmitted to your partner sexually, and could then affect the baby.
If a man has had Zika symptoms and tested positive for Zika, it’s advised to wait six months before trying to get a partner pregnant. This is because Zika has been detected in semen up to three months after the infection occurred. Since it’s not known exactly how long Zika can potentially be in the semen, waiting six months after the infection is considered the safest course of action.
Can it affect future pregnancies?
Based on current evidence, it appears that Zika does not cause birth defects in future pregnancies after it’s cleared from the mother’s body. If you get Zika and then recover from it, you most likely don’t have to worry about a future baby having a severe birth defect because of Zika.
Infections that are similar (such as dengue) cause lifelong immunity after you have them. Scientists believe that this is also true of Zika, but it’s not yet proven.
To learn more, visit your Southern Arizona fertility clinic
For personalized advice on Zika and what it means for you, visit your Southern Arizona fertility clinic to talk with your doctor. Information about Zika is still being revealed through research, so the information in this post may change quickly. Dr. Hutchison is staying up-to-date on this important topic. He can advise you on how you should proceed if you believe that you’re at risk for Zika.