What is Zika?
Zika is a virus spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Infection during pregnancy has been linked to a condition called microcephaly, an abnormally small head in newborns caused by disruptions in brain development. This can lead to lifelong developmental problems in the newborn.
The overall risk in Canada is very low – the mosquitoes known to transmit the virus are not established in Canada and are not well suited to our climate. The risk of Zika is through travel to countries where the Zika virus is circulating in mosquitoes or sexual transmission from an infected partner. Pregnant women and those planning a pregnancy should avoid travel to countries with a Zika virus outbreak.
What does this mean for breastfeeding mothers?
Breastfeeding mothers may be concerned that they may transmit the virus to their baby. Zika has been detected in breast milk of two breastfeeding mothers; however there are no reports of Zika being transmitted to babies by breastfeeding.
Many questions about Zika and breastfeeding remain including:
- How much Zika virus is in breast milk?
- Can breastfeeding mothers pass on protective antibodies to their children from a previous Zika infection?
- How long does the virus last in breast milk?
There have been no reported cases of babies suffering neurological problems or brain damage from being infected with Zika after birth.
Current evidence suggests the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risk of Zika.
Mothers are being encouraged to breastfeed even in areas where the Zika virus is found.
How can you protect yourself?
There is no vaccine or medication to protect against Zika. If you must travel to an area where the Zika virus is circulating, the best protection is to prevent mosquito bites. This can be done by:
- using insect repellent as directed (if you are worried about using this, speak to your health care provider)
- wearing protective clothing (e.g. light clothing and long sleeve shirt and pants)
- using mosquito nets
- when indoors – use air conditioning and/or screened windows and doors. Make sure they are in good repair.