Zika virus confirmed to cause birth defects

Zika virus has been in the news quite a bit recently, and with good reason: since an increase in microcephaly (a birth defect where a baby develops an abnormally small head and brain) was noted in Brazil last year, there have been concerns that an infection carried by mosquitoes could cause this birth defect. 

Until now, we had reason to suspect that the Zika virus was responsible for this problem as well as some other related birth defects, but there was no link proving it for sure. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now confirmed this linkage and that becoming infected with this virus while pregnant can lead to problems with a developing baby in the uterus.

Why is this announcement such a big deal? For starters, this is the first time that a virus carried by mosquitoes has been shown to cause a birth defect in humans. Hopefully this confirmation that the Zika virus is the culprit will lead to more funding so we can research better ways to prevent, diagnose, and possibly even treat people infected with the virus.

What this announcement doesn’t change, however, are recommendations when it comes to pregnant women and their partners (or those trying to conceive) related to travelling to areas where Zika virus is present. In these affected areas, caution should be used, and you can find an updated list of these countries.

While some government agencies in various countries disagree with what exactly to tell pregnant women, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends the following:

  • Women diagnosed with Zika virus should wait at least 8 weeks from when their symptoms began to try and become pregnant.
  • Men diagnosed with Zika virus should wait at least 6 months from when their symptoms began before trying to conceive.
  • Birth control should be available and used in areas where Zika virus is present and for women and their partners who want to prevent pregnancy.
  • How to test for the virus, how it is spread, and what bug sprays are best.

The take-home message is that, yes, a mosquito bite can cause you to become infected with Zika virus and ultimately lead to major birth defects that can have some pretty severe consequences for a baby. These are scary thoughts for any couple hoping to conceive or who are already pregnant. Because of this, and the ever-changing information and recommendations regarding this outbreak, be sure to talk to your doctor about your concerns. You shouldn’t have to try and decipher all this information on your own, and your doctor can keep you updated on the latest dos and don’ts when it comes to travel and how to stay protected.

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About Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, Medical Director, Pregnancy

Dr. Jennifer Lincoln is a board-certified generalist obstetrician/gynecologist and attending physician in Portland, Oregon. She primarily works on labor and delivery has recently been certified as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.


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