As of July 2016, 50 countries and territories worldwide now have active transmissions of the Zika virus, with 400 incidences of pregnant women contracting the disease in the United States. Zika can cause microcephaly, a birth defect causing unusually small head size in babies. To help understand the current condition of this virus and learn how we can prevent its spread, we sat down with Dr. Hai Shao, an infectious disease specialist affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center.
Because Zika can cause microcephaly, should pregnant women avoid traveling altogether?
Not necessarily. Fortunately, some places on Earth do not have active transmission of the Zika virus; however, I would encourage pregnant women to check the list of those countries before planning any travel. The most up-to-date list of countries that are safe to travel to is available on the CDC’s website. That being said, I highly suggest avoiding countries with high incidences of the infection, such as countries in East Africa and Latin America.
If a person’s partner travels often, should they be concerned about contracting Zika?
While certain airports are still safe with no risk of active transmission of the virus, it is important to be aware of the relative risk associated with traveling. For partners traveling back from certain countries associated with high incidences of infection, I suggest remaining abstinent or using protection during intercourse, especially if your partner is pregnant.
Is there a vaccine for Zika?
A clinical trial for the Zika vaccine is just about to start. This will take at least a year to prove efficacy, and no widespread administration of such vaccine will occur for quite some time, unfortunately.
How can we prevent the spread of Zika?
Preventing the spread of Zika includes monitoring and controlling mosquitoes that are capable of transmitting disease to humans (called vector control); using protection during sexual activities; and avoiding certain countries and areas. If you’re in an area where Zika incidences are suspected, be sure to wear long sleeves and other protection from mosquitoes that may be carrying the virus.
Zika and microcephaly are a growing concern for many individuals across the country. If you’re worried about contracting the virus or have more questions about how to travel and safely avoid contraction, talk with your primary care doctor or OBGYN.
For the media: To talk with a Sharp doctor about Zika and microcephaly, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 858-499-3052.