Parenting · Pregnancy

Zika virus: Planning a pregnancy & travelling

Two person working on a map and planning a travel, travel stuff on desktop.

When my best friend recently shared with me that she and her partner were planning to start a family, I couldn’t be happier.  This exciting news took a turn when she told me they were travelling to their dream destination spot in South America.  Alarm bells went off in my head as I asked if she had ever heard about the Zika virus.

What is Zika and how is it transmitted?

Most people know that Zika is a virus that spreads from the bite of an infected mosquito.  What most people don’t realize is that it can also be transmitted:

  • From a pregnant person (with or without symptoms) to the fetus
  • By having unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex
  • From an infected person who donates cells, blood, tissue, sperm (semen) or organs

Zika virus symptoms

Most, have no symptoms or very mild symptoms that may include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Headache
  • Joint pain
  • Red eyes
  • Muscle pain

Symptoms can last for several days to a week. The risk of a Zika infection is greater for those who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. Pregnancy can result in miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defect to the brain called microcephaly.  There is also a risk for developing Guillain-Barré syndrome that can cause damage to the nerve cells resulting in muscle weakness and sometimes, paralysis.

To prevent a Zika virus infection, it’s best to check travel advisories & avoid travelling to destinations with known Zika outbreaks when planning a pregnancy or pregnant.

If you’re planning a pregnancy, talk to your health care provider and consider postponing travel to Zika-affected areas. Those who choose to or cannot avoid travel to areas of risk are strongly advised to use personal protective measures against insect bites

Already travelled to an area with the risk of Zika?

  • If you’re pregnant, talk to your health care provider, even if you don’t feel sick.
  • If you or your partner are trying to get pregnant, talk to your healthcare provider when you return home, since there are precautions to take before trying to conceive.
    • For women, waiting at least 2 months after travelling or having any illness from Zika virus (whichever is longer). This will ensure that any Zika virus infection is cleared from your body.
    • For men, waiting 3 months after travelling or having an illness from Zika virus (whichever is longer). Men are advised to wait longer than women before trying to conceive since the Zika virus has been known to remain longer in semen.
    • During this 3-month period, men should always use condoms correctly or avoid having sex.

For more information, please connect with Toronto Public Health on eChat or call (416) 338-7600.

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