The spread of the Zika virus in South America has been in and out of the headlines over the past couple of months, with particular emphasis on the potential risk for unborn babies of contracting microcephaly, which has recently been established. If you’re pregnant – or trying to get pregnant – it’s the sort of story that can cause you to worry. But our advice is to look behind the headlines to get a real understanding of what it means for you and your baby.

THE HISTORY OF ZIKA

The Zika virus has been around for quite some time: it was first isolated in monkeys living in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947 and as described was a distinct virus in 1952. A survey in India in that year found that 33 of the 196 people tested for the new disease had immunity to it, indicating that they had already been exposed to it.

CURRENT CONCERNS ABOUT ZIKA

It is Zika’s recent explosion across South America that is causing concern, with a number of factors leading to the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring it a global emergency at the beginning of February:

The speed at which it is spreading: Zika has been detected in 23 countries, with an estimated 2 million people already infected by it, and it is knocking on the doors of the US.

Its method of transmission: Any attempt to control Zika is expected to be extremely difficult as it is spread by mosquitoes. The ongoing prevalence of malaria shows how hard it is to control mosquito-spread disease.

The potential link with microcephaly: This is a rare birth defect causing newborn babies to have unusually small heads and brains. 4,000 cases have been reported in Brazil since last autumn, with many officials blaming it on the Zika virus.

WHY YOU SHOULDN’T PANIC ABOUT ZIKA

All of this can make the headlines about Zika pretty scary reading for anyone who is pregnant or trying to conceive. But, as with all headlines, you need to dig a bit deeper to get the whole picture. Putting the headlines into their proper context should help you put Zika into perspective: for women in Kent, Sussex and Surrey, it is a negligible risk and one that shouldn’t cause you any sleepless nights.

The politics of the headlines: The WHO acted very swiftly to declare Zika a global emergency. This may make you think it is an incredibly serious health threat. However, health management – like so many things – is riddled with politics. There are many who think that the WHO acted so quickly in this case as a riposte to criticism that it was caught on the hop over the recent epidemic of Ebola in Western Africa.

The number of cases of microcephaly in Brazil may have been exaggerated: Health officials in Brazil have begun the slow process of trying to establish which of the more than 4,000 reported cases of microcephaly in newborn babies are indeed microcephaly and, of these, which may be linked with Zika. Of an initial 732 cases to be scrutinised, half either weren’t microcephaly or weren’t linked to Zika. In fact, just 270 were confirmed by officials as being microcephaly linked to Zika or other infectious diseases.

Risk of transmission to Europe is extremely small: So far, Europe has seen just one confirmed case of Zika – a pregnant woman in Spain, who is thought to have contracted it in Columbia.

BEING SENSIBLE ABOUT ZIKA

Zika is a serious health threat and one that needs to be taken seriously. However, the risk of it becoming a significant health risk for pregnant women, or those trying to conceive, in Sussex, Surrey or Kent is extremely small. Official advice is that if you are pregnant or trying for a baby, you should avoid travelling to countries with confirmed Zika, and this seems a sensible precaution.

But, for pregnant women in the South East of England, as long as you don’t have unavoidable reasons for travelling to South America, Zika should not be something to cause you worry during your pregnancy.

Our experts at The Agora Clinic are happy to advise you on the best lifestyle choices you can make to maximise your chances of getting pregnant and to keep you and your baby safe during your pregnancy.

To find out more about how our fertility experts can help you, call us on 01273 229410