If you’ve been making travel plans, are pregnant, or have looked at your facebook’s trending section, you’ve probably seen something about the Zika virus. If you’re wondering what it is, the CDC says the “Zika virus … is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes).” It’s not deadly in and of itself, the symptoms only last for a week or two, and once you have it you’re likely protected from future infections, though they’re not sure how long the protection lasts.
So, what’s the big deal then?
The issue is, there may be a link between the Zika virus and microcephaly, which is a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than average, which can result in the inability for the brain to develop fully resulting in seizures, developmental delays, disabilities and more. As of right now there is no concrete evidence, but it is looking more and more likely that they are somehow connected. The worst time for a pregnant woman to be infected is during the first trimester, when the most development is happening. In addition to that, while the disease only lives in your blood stream for a couple weeks, it has been found in semen nearly 9 weeks after one man fell ill, and they’re not sure how long it can live there.
So, those are the facts. The reason this came up is because the little prince and I were planning a possible trip to Costa Rica this summer, and it is one of the countries dealing with a Zika outbreak. In fact, most of central and south america are dealing with them at the moment, and the CDC has put out travel warnings on many countries in those areas.
Everyone is at a different risk, so I’ll break down our thinking into groups. First, the two easiest ones:
If you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant:
Don’t go! It’s really just not worth the risk any way you look at it.
If you’re definitely done having children:
I’d say go and don’t worry! If you do get it, the only real risks of passing it on is sexually and through a mosquito bite, so keep up your mosquito protection (or if it’s not mosquito season, relax) and don’t have sex with someone who does plan on having children.
If you’re considering having children in the future:
This group is a little trickier. My partner and I fall into this category and so we had to have a talk. There was different thinking and risks for each member of our family, so I’ll break them down below:
Men: After proper mosquito protection there is a small chance of getting infected during a short stay. If you do become infected, there’s a small chance of the infection staying in your semen for an extended period of time.
Women: After proper mosquito protection, there’s a small chance of getting infected. If you do get infected, after a couple weeks the infection should be gone and you should be immune. As long as you avoid getting pregnant during those first few weeks, even if your partner were to still have it present in their semen when you do later become pregnant, you should be immune, and if you aren’t, there’s a small chance of it transmitting to your child (1 in 100 from the latest study, if they’re truly related).
Children: For girls, the risk is the same as for women. For boys, it’s highly unlikely for the virus to last in their semen for years until they decide to have children. Even then, by the time either gender is an adult the virus could be widespread anyways or we might have a cure.
Put simply, to us the risks were as follows:
If sex is avoided during the first and second trimesters, the chances are even smaller.
But, there’s still a chance. No one can be sure if it’d be larger than the current microcephaly rates (2-12 in 10,000 live births in the US). To us, that’s not a big enough chance to keep the little prince and I away from those countries. We’d be a little more wary if my fiance was coming with, but he isn’t, so we don’t have to make that decision. Maybe it is a big enough chance for you, in the end, only you can decide what’s best for your family.
After all, there are plenty of other countries to visit in the meantime!
What would you do?
Here are some of my sources: