The Zika Virus and Trying to Conceive

What Precautions to Take + Should You Postpone Pregnancy + What Are the Risks

couple on a beach in brazil, where trying to conceive couples must beware of the Zika virus
Planning a trip to Brazil or another Zika-virus affected country? You may want to stop trying to conceive for awhile or reconsider your travel plans.. Adam Hester / Photolibrary / Getty Images

Do you need to worry about the Zika virus if you’re trying to conceive? The answer is yes, if you or your partner plans to travel into an affected area.

(Yes, even if your partner plans to travel, you should take precautions. More on this below.)

The World Health Organization has declared the Zika virus outbreak a global health emergency.

Most of the time, Zika has relatively mild symptoms. The biggest danger is for pregnant women.

The Zika virus is carried via mosquitoes. There have, however, been a few cases of the virus being transmitted via sexual intercourse and possibly via blood transfusion.

If a woman is bit during pregnancy, and contracts the virus, her baby is at-risk for severe birth defects. Specifically, her baby may be born with microcephaly, a birth defect that leads to an abnormally small head and stunted brain development.

This risk is highest in early pregnancy -- which means you could very easily travel to a country like this, conceive while there, and contract the virus, all before you even know you're pregnant.

Areas to Avoid or Take Precaution In

According to the CDC, the Zika virus is most active in the following areas:

  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • El Salvador
  • French Guiana
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Martinique
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Suriname
  • Venezuela
  • the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

What Should You Do If You or Your Partner Have Travel Plans?

As always, your first source for information should be your doctor.

If you or your partner have travel plans, speak to him or her first.

Ideally, you should cancel or postpone the trip.

If you can’t, consider the following suggestions:

  • After your trip, wait at least two to three weeks to ensure you have not contracted the virus. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure.
  • If you contract the virus or have any symptoms, talk to your doctor before you start trying to conceive again.
  • If your partner travels to one of these countries, use condoms to prevent transmission of the virus until at least a few weeks have passed, and it's clear he has not been infected.
  • If your partner gets any symptoms of the virus, talk to your doctor before resuming unprotected sexual intercourse.
  • If you get pregnant, and your partner travels to one of the affected countries, the CDC suggests using condoms throughout the pregnancy.
  • If you’re going through fertility treatment, and your partner is traveling, talk to your doctor about the possibility of cryopreserving his semen before he leaves. This way, treatment may not need to be postponed.
  • If you may be in early pregnancy and can’t cancel your trip, take extra precautions to avoid getting bit by a mosquito.

    Do you need to worry about getting the Zika virus in the United States? Should you postpone your trying to conceive plans until after a vaccine is created?

    I interviewed Dr. Amanpreet Bhullar, OB/GYN of Orlando Health Physician Associates. Located in Florida, Dr. Bhullar is in an area most at risk for Zika in the United States.

    Here are his answers to your most commonly asked questions on Zika and trying to conceive.

    Do You Need to Worry About Zika in the United States?

    Is the Zika virus something trying to conceive women living in the USA need to worry about? (Do they need to worry if they aren't traveling?)

    Not currently. Women who are planning to conceive and are going to travel to areas at risk of Zika virus need to be careful.

    Specifically, the CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women who are trying to become pregnant, this includes postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. 

    Those who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip. These precautions are for women who are pregnant in any trimester or who are trying to become pregnant.

    Some countries directly affected by the Zika virus outbreak have asked couples to not get pregnant. There are some couples in the USA that are thinking they should put off trying to have a baby until the virus passes or a vaccine is created. Is this really called for in unaffected areas?

    The risk to couples (as of right now, at least) is low in the US. 

    No locally transmitted Zika cases have been reported in the continental United States, but cases have been reported in returning travelers. Three of those cases are now reported in Florida.

    Locally transmitted Zika virus has been reported in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. With the recent outbreaks, the number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States will likely increase. These imported cases could result in local spread of the virus in some areas of the United States.

    As far as individuals who have traveled to the areas and become infected – the only way they can pass the disease to someone here is to be bitten by the mosquito that passes it and then have that mosquito bite an uninfected person. This mosquito is found throughout North and South America (including the US). 

    However, the information about this disease is still new. Just recently, there has been one report of possible spread of the virus through blood transfusion and one report of possible spread of the virus through sexual contact.

    [Note from Rachel: Since this interview took place, it has been confirmed that a case of Zika was contracted via sexual intercourse. The CDC now recommends that women use sexual protection for at least a short time period if their partners have traveled to an affected country.]

    What if they live in Texas or Florida? 

    The concern for people living in Texas and Florida right now is higher because the climate is mild in the winter. Therefore, the risk for a locally acquired Zika virus, through a mosquito bite, is more likely than in colder climates.

    Still, there have not been any such cases in the United States, only cases among people who have traveled to other countries and acquired the virus there.

    When Do I Need to Worry About the Zika Virus?

    If someone travels to a country affected by the virus, and then comes back, can they pass the virus onto someone else?

    Currently, from what is understood about this virus it is spread through mosquito bites.

    Just recently, there has been one report of possible spread of the virus through blood transfusion and one report of possible spread of the virus through sexual contact.

    [Note from Rachel: Because of the one case of sexual transmission, the CDC now recommends exercising precaution if your partner travels to an affected country. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned.]

    Should those in early pregnancy take caution? Or is this not really a concern?

    Women in their first trimester should be most concerned as that is when brain development in fetuses occurs.

    Early pregnancy, the first trimester, is the most dangerous time frame because this is when organ development takes place in a fetus.

    But pregnant women in every stage should take precautions.

    What about women who are trying to conceive and have vacations planned in one of these countries... should they avoid getting pregnant when they are there? 

    If they are pregnant and traveling they should either postpone their trip or take all precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

    If they are planning to get pregnant, and they’re traveling, I would suggest they avoid getting pregnant just as a precaution.

    Is there a certain amount of time they should wait to start trying again when they return to the USA? 

    If they return from vacation they should ensure that they have no symptoms for two weeks before trying to conceive.

    Symptoms include fever, conjunctivitis (pink eye), and joint pain.

    If they are clear of symptoms for those two weeks, then they are likely okay to start trying.

    If they do have any of these symptoms, then they should talk with their doctor about an appropriate time to wait.

    However, it is really unclear as to exactly how long a woman should wait to conceive if it is believed she was infected with the Zika virus.

    More on Zika virus:


    Amanpreet S Bhullar, OB/GYN. Email interview conducted January 29, 2016.

    CDC issues interim travel guidance related to Zika virus for 14 Countries and Territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Center for Disease Control. Accessed February 5, 2016.

    Mohney, Gillian. Sexually Transmitted Zika Virus Case in US Prompts CDC to Issue New Guidelines. Accessed February 5, 2016.

    Thompson, Dennis. Latest Zika advice: Use condoms during pregnancy. Accessed February 5, 2016.

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