This week, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care reported Canada’s first positive case of sexually transmitted Zika virus. It is suspected that the individual – an Ontario resident – contracted the virus from a partner who was infected after travelling to a country where Zika virus is circulating. This is very important information to know for women and men that may be pregnant or planning a pregnancy and are travelling to countries where Zika virus is circulating. When you consider that an estimated 50 per cent of pregnancies are unplanned, this information really is important for anyone at an age that becoming pregnant is a possibility.
It is essential that travellers planning a trip or returning from a country where Zika virus is circulating take the appropriate precautions to protect themselves and their sexual partners against the virus. If you or your partner are planning a vacation or business trip to a Zika-affected country, please read on to understand what the Public Health Agency of Canada is recommending to protect yourself and your unborn baby from the virus.
Why do pregnant women need to be concerned about Zika virus?
Unfortunately, a pregnant woman can pass Zika virus to her unborn baby during pregnancy. Experts now know there is an association between Zika virus and an increased risk of abnormally small heads (microcephaly) and other severe brain defects in unborn babies. Taking careful precautions can help prevent a woman from becoming infected with the virus during pregnancy.
There are three known ways a pregnant woman can contract the Zika virus. They are through:
- the bite of an infected mosquito (the most common way);
- sexual contact with semen from an infected man; and
- blood transfusions from infected donors.
It is important to note that if you are not travelling, the overall risk in Canada remains very low. Zika virus is primarily spread to people through the bite of infected Aedes aegypti and possibly Aedes albopictus species mosquitoes. These are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses. These specific species of mosquitoes are not established in Canada and are not well-suited to our climate.
Are you thinking about travelling to a Zika-affected country?
The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that:
- pregnant women and women planning a pregnancy should avoid travel to countries with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks; and
- if travel cannot be avoided or postponed, strict mosquito bite prevention measures should be followed (see below).
Are you a traveller returning from a Zika-affected country?
If you are a:
- woman planning a pregnancy – wait at least two months before trying to conceive to ensure that any possible Zika virus infection has cleared your body.
- If you have a pregnant partner, you should use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy.
- You and your partner should wait to conceive for six months by using a condom.
- Consider using a condom with any partner for six months.
- blood donor – wait at least 21 days after your return to donate blood.
It is also important to note that information about Zika virus is constantly changing. The Public Health Agency of Canada is working closely to monitor the situation and will update recommendations as any new evidence emerges. They will also regularly update the list of Zika-affected countries.
For additional information on Zika virus, please visit Canada.ca/zika-virus. For telephone support in Halton, simply dial 311.
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For parenting information or to speak with a Public Health Nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.