Rise in Zika cases: Questions about Zika

Residents walk past a public service announcement banner against the spread of Aedes mosquitoes, a carrier for the Zika virus, at Aljunied Crescent neighbourhood in Singapore on August 29.
Residents walk past a public service announcement banner against the spread of Aedes mosquitoes, a carrier for the Zika virus, at Aljunied Crescent neighbourhood in Singapore on August 29. PHOTO: AFP

Q If I am pregnant, does that put me at higher risk of getting infected by Zika?

A There is currently no evidence that this is so, says the Ministry of Health (MOH). However, the consequences can be more serious if a pregnant woman is infected as her unborn child can get a birth defect known as microcephaly, that is, an abnormally small head.

The risk of microcephaly from a Zika virus infection is still unknown, although some studies have put it at between 1 per cent and 13 per cent. Research is still ongoing.

Q At what point can microcephaly be detected in unborn babies?

A According to the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, microcephaly can be diagnosed through an ultrasound starting from late in the second trimester of pregnancy.

However, it stressed that the accuracy of using ultrasound to detect microcephaly in a baby whose mother has Zika is still unknown. It can depend on many factors, including when the mother was infected and how serious the microcephaly is.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends an ultrasound between 28 and 30 weeks.

 

I am a woman who has been infected with Zika. Will it affect my future pregnancies?

A This is unlikely as Zika stays in the blood of an infected person for only around a week after he or she develops symptoms. It will not cause infections in a baby conceived after the virus has been cleared from the blood.

Q I am a man who might be infected with the Zika virus. What should I do to protect my sexual partner?

A The virus can be transmitted through sex and has been detected in semen. The WHO recommends that men returning from a place where Zika virus transmission is known to have taken place to wait at least eight weeks before trying to get their partner to conceive.

If they experience symptoms of infection, they should wait six months to be on the safe side.

Sexual partners of pregnant women should practise safer sex, for example, consistent and correct use of condoms during sex, or abstain from sex throughout the women's pregnancy, says MOH.

Q What can I do to protect myself if I am pregnant?

A According to MOH:

•You should reconsider your travel plans to areas with local transmission of Zika virus. If you need to travel to affected countries, you should undertake strict precautions against mosquito bites.

•Take steps to prevent mosquito bites by wearing long, covered clothing, applying insect-repellent and sleeping under mosquito nets or in rooms with wire-mesh screens or air-conditioned rooms to keep out mosquitoes.

•Pregnant women should consult a doctor if they develop a fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes during their trip or within two weeks after visiting an area where Zika has been reported.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2016, with the headline 'Questions about Zika'. Print Edition | Subscribe