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Tips for Pregnant Women to Prevent Zika Virus Infection

A pregnant woman outside

Pregnancy is an exciting time in a woman's life. There is so much to learn, including ways to protect yourself and your new baby from health risks. Recently, the Zika virus outbreak and its link to birth defects have been making the headlines. Zika may sound scary, but there are some basic steps pregnant women can take to protect themselves.

Why worry about Zika?

Zika is mostly spread by mosquito bites, primarily by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, but it can also be sexually transmitted from an infected man to his sex partners (as Zika is known to be spread from semen). There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika. The sickness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week. People usually don't get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected.

For pregnant women, the concern is that Zika virus can be passed to the fetus during pregnancy or around the time of delivery, and infection during pregnancy has been linked to a serious birth defect called microcephaly and other problems in infants. But there is still a lot we don't know about Zika virus, including how likely it is that Zika virus will affect a pregnancy or result in birth defects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other organizations are doing research to try to answer these and other questions about Zika.

Prevention is key

CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women to protect themselves from Zika.

  • Do not travel to areas with Zika. If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your doctor first.
  • Strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites. There are many ways to prevent mosquito bites:
    • Use EPA-registered insect repellents. When used as directed, they are safe and effective for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Remember to apply sunscreen before repellent, and don't spray repellent underneath clothes.
    • Even your fashion choices play a role in preventing bites: Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants protects your arms and legs. Permethrin is an insecticide that can be sprayed on fabric to prevent insect bites. Treating clothing with permethrin adds another layer of protection — just don't put it directly on your skin!
    • Stay and sleep in places with air conditioning or window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside. Sleep under a bed net if air conditioned or screened rooms are not available or if sleeping outdoors.

Women trying to become pregnant should follow these mosquito bite prevention guidelines as well.

  • Zika virus can also be sexually transmitted from a male partner. Right now we don't know how long Zika virus stays in semen. If you're pregnant and have a male partner who lives in or has traveled to an area with Zika, either use condoms the right way, every time you have sex, or do not have sex while pregnant. Not having sex is the best way to be sure you don't get Zika from sex.

CDC is working around the clock to learn more about Zika and how it affects pregnancy and infants.

Check CDC's Zika website regularly to get the most up-to-date information.

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