Should We Be Worried About Zika Before Pregnancy?

Zika Before Pregnancy

Zika has been in the news a lot since it first came to public consciousness in 2016. And while it’s definitely a very scary virus, there’s some confusing information out there about how people get it and what the risks are to those of us living in the US and trying to get pregnant. We did some research to make sure you have all the facts before you plan your next vacay while you’re TTC.

What is Zika?

Broadly speaking, Zika is a mosquito-borne virus, but there are other ways it can be transmitted: through sex with an infected person, or if a pregnant woman passes it on to her developing fetus. Symptoms in adults are similar to getting the flu: fever, rash, headache, joint pain, muscle aches and red eyes. However, many people won’t show any symptoms at all, and those that do might not feel badly enough to go to the doctor.

For most adults, the symptoms will pass without issue within a week. But the biggest danger is that Zika can get passed to a fetus if a person with Zika becomes pregnant, because the symptoms for a baby are far more severe, including a birth defect called microcephaly and other scary brain defects.

I’m not pregnant (yet). Why should I worry about Zika?

Not to freak you out, but, “the fear is that Zika can stay in your system for several months,” says Dr. Jamie Knopman, a reproductive endocrinologist at New York fertility clinic Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM). “So, let’s say you went on a great trip and then got pregnant after you got back, it could still be living inside of you.”

And remember, Zika can also be sexually transmitted. So if your partner traveled to an area with a Zika risk and caught the virus, it could continue to live in his or her system and then get passed on to you (and your future pregnancy) even months after.

So, if you’re already trying to get pregnant, or you’re thinking about starting to try, here is some info you’ll need to make sure you conceive as safely as possible.

Where can I contract Zika?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states on their website that there were no local mosquito-borne Zika cases reported in the US in 2018. That means there is no known risk of getting Zika from a mosquito bite in the States. But, if you have plans to travel out of the country while you’re TTC, be sure to search for your dream destinations on the CDC’s website to ensure you’re playing it safe.

What precautions should I take when I travel?

The cold, hard truth: “don’t go to places that may have Zika,” says Dr. Knopman.

But if you must travel to one of these areas, you’ve got to protect yourself from bug bites. Wear an EPA-approved bug spray at all times, protect your skin with long-sleeve shirts and full-length pants, ideally treated with permethrin (an insecticide that keeps working, even after washing), and keep bugs at bay when you’re indoors with screens on windows and doors and mosquito nets over your bed. Don’t hate us for killing your travel vibe; we’re just the messenger!

But wait, there’s more. after you or your partner return from your trip, you need to continue to be cautious, pushing your TTC timeline even further into the future, including:

  • Continuing to fend off those mosquitos: For at least 3 weeks, the CDC recommends you keep taking all the same precautions to avoid bug bites. Sounds crazy, but better to be safe than sorry.
  • Months of no unprotected sex or fertility treatments: if your partner traveled without you, doctors advise you avoid conception for at least 3 months after your partner returns from that trip. If you traveled with your partner, or if you traveled alone, the recommendation is to avoid pregnancy for at least 2 months. These periods apply even if you have no symptoms of having contracted Zika, and they’re extended if one or both of you has caught the virus: you’ll need to wait until 2-3 months from the date your symptoms first appeared or the date of your Zika diagnosis.

So, yeah…it’s complicated. Really, if you’re hoping to conceive any time within the next year, it’s probably best to take Dr. Knopman’s advice and avoid traveling to anywhere on the CDC’s list of Zika risk areas. Even if you don’t end up getting Zika, you’re still going to be playing a waiting game to ensure the healthiest pregnancy possible.

Holly Lynn Ellis

Holly Lynn Ellis is a writer and film and video producer. Her five feature films include the Sundance-selected Prairie Love and she's made countless videos for parents and families on multiple pregnancy and parenting sites. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and toddler, and they are trying to conceive again.