Here’s how Zika virus can impact pregnancy, cause newborn complications

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New Delhi, July 04: Pregnant women are severely at risk of Zika virus that can lead to severe complications, harming the baby in the womb, said doctors on Thursday as Zika cases rise to 8 in Maharashtra.

Zika is an Aedes mosquito-borne viral disease like Dengue and Chikungunya. Although it is a non-fatal disease, when contracted during pregnancy, Zika can cause devastating effects on the developing foetus.

Microcephaly is one of the most alarming outcomes, where babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains

“This condition can result in long-term physical and intellectual disabilities. It is important to note that not all babies born to women who have Zika virus infection during pregnancy will have birth defects. However, the risk is significant enough that pregnant women must take steps to avoid Zika virus infection,” Dr. Manish Machave, consulting obstetrician, and gynaecological endoscopic surgeon, Ruby Hall Clinic, Pune, told IANS.

According to the doctor, an infection in the first trimester appears to be the most risky.

In addition, Zika infection can cause other serious conditions collectively known as congenital Zika syndrome, Dr. Manish said.

“These include eye defects like damage to the retina and optic nerves, leading to vision problems; hearing impairments with structural and functional issues in the ear; growth restrictions both in the womb and after birth, leading to low birth weight and stunted growth; and joint deformities with limited range of motion in some joints, giving rise to arthrogryposis,” he noted.

Zika virus gets transmitted to a person through the bite of an infected mosquito. When bitten, the first signs are typically mild and can include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. Currently, eight cases of Zika virus infection have been reported from Maharashtra: Pune (6), Kolhapur (1) and Sangamner (1). Of these, two cases are in pregnant women.

Besides affecting current pregnancy, the deadly virus can also affect her future pregnancies, according to experts, making it a significant public health concern.

“If a woman is infected with Zika, it must be cleared from her system before she can conceive because the virus will still bring harm to the baby if one becomes pregnant while infected,” Dr. Kavitha Kovi, Head of Department – Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Aster Women and Children Hospital, in Bengaluru, told IANS.

“If a pregnant woman thinks she might be experiencing symptoms of the Zika virus, she should seek medical attention right away. She should tell her healthcare provider about recent travel to an area with Zika and if she may have had mosquito bites. The healthcare provider may suggest testing for the presence of the virus,” the doctor added.

She called on pregnant women to monitor for symptoms like fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes — symptoms of the Zika virus — and to seek medical attention right away.

“Following medical advice, including measures to prevent further mosquito bites, is essential to minimise risk. Regular check-ups and discussions with healthcare providers about pregnancy management and potential risks to the baby are also recommended for optimal care and monitoring,” Dr. Kavitha said.

Dr. Manish asked pregnant women to take extra precautions to avoid exposure, such as avoiding travel to Zika-affected areas and protecting themselves from mosquito bites.

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