Zika virus: Pregnant or planning a pregnancy

The Public Health Agency of Canada has updated the recommendation for prevention of sexual transmission of Zika. Previously, male travellers were advised to wait 6 months before trying for a pregnancy. They also were advised to always use condoms correctly with their sexual partner for 6 months. This recommendation has been revised to 3 months based on new scientific evidence regarding the persistence of infectious Zika virus in semen. It is still advised that male travellers with a pregnant partner should continue to refrain from unprotected sex for the duration of the pregnancy.

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Risks of Zika virus during pregnancy

Zika virus infection in a pregnant woman can pose significant risks to the fetus, even if the woman does not develop symptoms.

Zika virus infection causes damage to the fetal nervous system that affects how the brain and other nervous tissue develops and functions. There are 5 unique features, called congenital Zika syndrome, that are commonly seen together which include:

  • abnormally small head (microcephaly) with partially collapsed skull
  • incomplete brain development and damage
  • increased muscle tone affecting movement
  • club foot and contracted limbs
  • abnormal development of the eyes, including visual problems

Hearing loss and other neurological problems have also been reported. Some babies have no obvious problems at birth but their skull and brain develop more slowly as they grow.

Babies born to women who had the Zika virus infection during pregnancy should be followed up during their first year. This will help doctors to detect and manage any potential problems that are not apparent at birth.

Avoiding travel

For women

Pregnant women should take special precautions to avoid infection with Zika virus.

If you are pregnant, you should avoid:

  • travelling to a Zika-affected country or area
  • unprotected sexual contact with anyone who has travelled to a Zika-affected country or area for the duration of your pregnancy

If you can't avoid travel to Zika-affected countries or areas:

  • get advice from a health care professional at least 6 weeks before you travel and follow up upon your return
  • protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times by following insect bite prevention measures
  • avoid unprotected sexual contact with anyone

Zika-affected countries or areas

If your sexual partner has travelled to a Zika-affected country or area, to protect yourself and your fetus from infection, you should:

  • always use condoms correctly for the duration of your pregnancy, or
  • avoid having sex for the duration of your pregnancy

For men

Before travelling, talk to your health care professional to know the risks of travelling to Zika-affected countries or areas. Once there, protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times by following strict insect bite prevention measures.

For men who have travelled to a Zika-affected country or area and have a pregnant partner, you should:

  • always use condoms correctly for the duration of the pregnancy, or
  • avoid having sex for the duration of the pregnancy

Planning a pregnancy after travelling

If you have travelled to a Zika-affected country or area and want to become pregnant after returning home:

Women

Before trying for a pregnancy, women should wait at least 2 months after :

  • travelling, or
  • onset of illness due to Zika virus

Go with whichever option is longer.

This will ensure that any possible Zika virus infection is cleared from your body.

Men

Before trying for a pregnancy, men should wait 3 months after:

  • travelling, or
  • onset of illness due to Zika virus

Go with whichever option is longer.

Infectious Zika virus has been found in the semen of some infected men for a prolonged period of time. The 3-month recommendation takes into consideration currently available data on how long infectious Zika virus can be found in semen.

During this 3-month period, men should:

When to test for Zika virus

If you are pregnant and think you have been exposed to or infected with Zika virus, contact your health care professional. Your health care professional may arrange an appointment for you with an infectious diseases specialist. Testing is recommended if you have symptoms of Zika virus or recently had symptoms of Zika virus that are now gone, and:

  • travelled to a Zika-affected country or area while pregnant
  • became pregnant within 2 months after travelling to a Zika-affected country or area
  • are pregnant and have had unprotected sexual contact with:
    • someone diagnosed with Zika virus infection
    • someone who travelled to a Zika-affected country or area

Testing is a consideration for pregnant women who do not have a history of Zika virus symptoms but have:

  • travelled or became pregnant within 2 months after travelling to a Zika-affected country or area
  • had unprotected sexual contact with:
    • someone diagnosed with Zika virus infection
    • someone who travelled to a Zika-affected country or area

Testing for Zika virus is not recommended, even if you are pregnant, if:

  • you do not have a travel history to a Zika-affected country or area
  • you do not have a sexual partner with a travel history to a Zika-affected country or area

There is currently no evidence that Zika virus:

  • will cause infection in a baby conceived after the virus is cleared from an infected mother and the semen of her sexual partner, or
  • poses a risk of birth defects for future pregnancies

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