Zika virus linked to birth defects

Women around the globe are being warned about a virus that may have links to birth defects and developmental issues in unborn babies. The Zika virus is transmitted through bites from infected Aedes mosquitoes. These mosquitoes are not normally found in New Zealand. Currently there is no vaccine or cure for the virus.

An outbreak of the virus has resulted in several countries, predominantly in Latin America, issuing public health advice to women to avoid getting pregnant for two years. This is to allow time to create a vaccine or eradicate the virus - but in reality this could take longer. The best prevention is protection against mosquito bites.

Common symptoms of the Zika virus disease are a fever, rash and conjunctivitis. Those with the virus may suffer from symptoms for up to a week but it is generally a mild illness and many of those infected show no symptoms.

The effect on unborn babies, however, is still being investigated. A large surge in the number of babies born in Brazil recently with microcephaly and suffering other poor pregnancy outcomes has been linked to the mother having been infected with Zika virus while pregnant. However, additional testing and research is required  to eliminate other possible causes.

MIcrocephaly is a neurological condition that can cause a baby to be born with a smaller than average head and may result in brain damage and subsequent developmental delays.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a travel alert for people traveling to countries affected by the virus. Advice from the Ministry of Health is for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to postpone travel to affected countries. As the virus has been detected in travellers returning from tropical regions, pregnant woman who may have visited an area where the Zika virus is present area are advised to consult their doctor.


For more information on Zika virus, visit the World Health Organisation website or the MInistry of Health website.

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