Zika Virus – Information for pregnant women

This fact sheet provides a summary of information relevant for pregnant women. If you are planning a pregnancy you should either follow the advice relating to pregnant women, or delay the pregnancy for an appropriate time. For more information, refer to the Zika virus fact sheet – the basics or talk to your doctor.

Page last updated: 04 October 2017

What we know

  • Zika virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby.
  • This can cause severe birth defects, in particular, a condition called microcephaly (small head or brain). Microcephaly is just one of the signs and symptoms of congenital Zika virus syndrome (CZVS) that can be present at birth or appear later in infancy such as seizures (fits), irritability, swallowing problems, hearing and sight abnormalities.
  • Based on current evidence, the risk of birth defects appears to relate to all stages or trimesters of pregnancy.
  • Zika spreads through the bite of infected mosquitoes. You can also get Zika from sex without a condom with someone who has Zika, even if that person does not have symptoms.
  • There is no vaccine to prevent Zika. There is no medicine to treat Zika. Pregnant women should avoid infection.

Travel Recommendations for Pregnant women from the Department of Health

If you are pregnant you should consider deferring travel to a Zika affected country.

If you are pregnant and thinking of travelling to a country where there is the potential for Zika transmission, you should have a discussion with your doctor about the possible risks for your particular trip to help you make a decision about whether travelling to this area is right for you at this time.

If your partner travels to an area with Zika, you can be infected through sex even if you don’t travel. Refer to Zika virus fact sheet – the basics or talk to your doctor for further information.

Department of Health Zika country categories

A Zika affected country is a country where Zika first occurred recently and is spreading currently (World Health Organization Category 1), or has been present for a longer time, and cases may still be reported and there is no evidence to show that it has gone (based on WHO category 2).

A country with the potential for Zika transmission is a country where the type of mosquitoes that can transmit Zika virus are present. In some of these areas Zika had spread in the past but is no longer present (based on WHO category 3), while in others there has never been any evidence of Zika spreading  there (based on WHO category 4).

For more information on Zika country categories, refer to the Department of Health Zika country classifications. Refer to the WHO website for the latest list. The information is updated frequently, so check back for the latest updates.

Note: Most WHO classifications are for the whole country, but if the type of mosquito that can spread Zika is only present in part of the country, then the classifications are only relevant for that area. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control provides additional advice on current Zika transmission on their website.

What to do if you do decide to travel to a country where Zika is present.

If you do decide to travel to a Zika affected country, or a country where there is the potential for Zika transmission or if you live in one of these countries, you should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and always practice safe sex.

Mosquito bite prevention

  • Cover as much exposed skin as possible, including wearing light coloured long-sleeved shirts and long pants;
  • Use insect repellents, applied according to the product label. Note that insect repellents containing DEET or Picaridin are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Use insecticide-treated (such as Permethrin) clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents); and
  • Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms. Use bed nets if you cannot keep mosquitoes from coming inside the room.

Safe sex

While pregnant, you should avoid unprotected sex with a male partner who has been to a Zika affected country for the duration of the pregnancy or 6 months, whichever is longer. This means if you have sex, you must use condoms from start to finish every time you have sex (oral, vaginal or anal).

While pregnant, you should avoid unprotected sex with a female partner for at least 8 weeks following their return from travel.

After travel

  • Talk to a doctor after travel to an area with risk of Zika to discuss the need for testing.
  • If you develop symptoms such as a fever, rash, headache, joint pain, red eyes, or muscle pain talk to your doctor immediately and tell him or her about your travel.

Zika Testing for Pregnant Women

Testing will be offered to pregnant women who have travelled to a Zika virus affected country.

In some circumstances testing will be offered if a couple is planning pregnancy following travel to a Zika virus affected country if there are concerns about the consequences of delaying pregnancy for the recommended time periods.

Non-pregnant people with symptoms of Zika virus infection and who have may have been exposed to Zika through travel or sex need to be tested.

The available tests for Zika virus may require 4 weeks following the last potential exposure to give a result. For some women, the results will not be able to say that they have not had a Zika virus infection.

There is no specific treatment for Zika virus if a positive test is returned. A positive test in the mother cannot indicate whether the baby is infected or harmed.

If you live in a Zika affected country

If you are pregnant or planning pregnancy and you live in or frequently travel to a Zika affected country or a country with the potential for Zika transmission the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information that may be relevant, refer to the CDC website (www.cdc.gov/zika/pdfs/preg_areaswithzika.pdf).

Preventing Zika when planning a pregnancy

Women who are planning pregnancy or at risk of pregnancy should consider deferring travel as per the recommendations for pregnant women, or avoid pregnancy. For more information, refer to the Zika virus factsheet — the basics.