Pregnant Women and Partners
IDPH’s top priority is to protect pregnant women and their fetuses from Zika virus infection. Zika virus infection during any stage of pregnancy can cause microcephaly and other severe fetal defects. In addition to microcephaly, doctors have found other problems in pregnancies and among fetuses and infants infected with Zika virus before birth, such as miscarriage, stillbirth, absent or poorly developed brain structures, defects of the eye, hearing deficits, and impaired growth. IDPH is working to educate pregnant women who may travel to areas with Zika virus or who have sexual partners who may travel to these areas about how to prevent Zika transmission. Pregnant women traveling should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites, including using mosquito repellent containing DEET and protect against sexual transmission. If a pregnant woman has a male sex partner who lives in or has traveled to an area with Zika, she should use a condom every time she has sex or should not have sex with that partner during the pregnancy.
Women of Child Bearing Age and Partners
IDPH is also prioritizing efforts to prevent Zika virus infection in women who may become pregnant. To accomplish this, IDPH is working with community organizations to offer materials and information to reduce the spread of Zika virus. The information will emphasize pregnancy prevention and family planning because of the risks associated with Zika virus infection during pregnancy. The IDPH Office of Women’s Health and Family Services (OWHFS) prioritizes assisting women of childbearing age to take preventative measures to avoid or postpone pregnancy if they have had any exposure or potential exposure to the Zika virus. The OWHFS provides information to pregnant women and women who may become pregnant about Zika virus, travel recommendations, how to protect themselves, and what to do if they are, or may be infected.
Because Illinois is considered to be at low risk of spreading Zika virus, travel to areas with Zika or having a sexual partner who has traveled to an area with Zika virus should be actively considered to prevent transmission. Zika virus can be transmitted sexually (vaginal, anal, or oral) from a male to his partner. The Zika virus appears to stay in semen longer than in the blood, so men should take extra precautions to avoid spreading the virus. If a man travels to an area with risk of Zika, he should use a condom when engaging in sexual activity during his travel and for six months after he returns. People visiting an area with widespread Zika should take steps to protect themselves from mosquito bites, including using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents. More information on steps to prevent mosquito bites and other travel precautions can be found on the CDC website.
Health Care Providers
IDPH is working with obstetricians and birthing hospitals to ensure they understand how to correctly identify, test and manage pregnant women who may be infected with Zika virus. IDPH is also working with health care providers to ensure access to family planning messages and services. Current recommendations include:
- Advising women to wait at least eight weeks after symptoms first appeared before trying to get pregnant.
- Advise men to wait at least six months after travel to a Zika-affected area first appeared before trying to get a partner pregnant, regardless of whether they exhibited Zika virus symptoms.
- Men should correctly and consistently use condoms for vaginal, anal, and oral (mouth-to-penis) sex or not have sex during this time period if they are concerned about the possibility of transmitting Zika virus to sex partners.
- Men and women without symptoms of Zika virus who live in an area with active Zika virus transmission should talk with their health care providers about pregnancy plans during a Zika virus outbreak, the potential risks of Zika virus, and how they can prevent Zika virus infection during the pregnancy.
Zika vrius can be passed through sex from a person who has Zika virus to his or her sex partners. All pregnant women who have a sex partner who has traveled to or resides in an area with Zika virus should use barrier methods every time they have sex or should not have sex during the pregnancy. Although no cases of woman-to-woman Zika virus transmission have been reported, these recommendations also apply to female sex partners of pregnant women.
OWHFS shares Zika virus educational materials developed by the CDC with the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development and with the Illinois Department of Human Services. OWHFS also provides information to health care providers such as gynecologists, obstetricians, and midwives to assist with patient education. The outreach includes information about symptoms to look for in patients, questions to ask patients,, how to request testing, and how to collect specimens for testing.
Health care providers and health departments with questions about the registry can email ZikaMCH@cdc.gov or call 770-488-7100 and ask for the Zika Pregnancy Hotline.