Zika virus is a mild viral illness transmitted by mosquitoe bites. The mosquitoes that can spread Zika virus are not normally found in New Zealand but they are found in many parts of the world including the Pacific Islands (widespread transmission in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa), parts of Africa, southern Asia,and the Americas.
There are concerns that pregnant women who become infected (only 1 in 5 cases have symptoms) can transmit Zika virus to their unborn babies with potentially serious consequences. On April 14th 2016 the US Centre for Disease Control released a statement that prenatal infection is a cause of microcephaly and other serious brain anomalies. Reports from several countries including Brazil showed an increase in severe birth defects in babies whose mothers were infected while pregnant.
The Ministry of Health recommends that women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant in the near term should defer travel to areas where the ZIka virus is present.
Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus
There is limited information available about the risk of sexual transmission of Zika virus but it is considered to be low compared to the risk from infected mosquitoes. Research has shown the Zika virus can be present in semen months after leaving a Zika affected area.
The Ministry of Health advise that ALL MEN who have travelled to a Zika affected area and have a pregnant partner should abstain from sexual activity (oral, vaginal and anal) or use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy whether they have symptoms or not. If they are planning a baby, they should abstain or use condoms for six months after returning from the Zika affected area.
New Zealand cases
Between 1 January 2016 and 7 June 2016, a total of 88 cases of Zika virus have been reported in New Zealand. All cases of Zika reported in New Zealand have been connected to recent travel to countries where an outbreak was occurring.
Cases reported in New Zealand peaked in February, and have been consistently low since then. We anticipate that numbers will continue to be low over winter. However, it is important for anyone travelling overseas to be aware of mosquito borne illnesses which may be present, and take precautions to prevent being bitten. These include wearing long sleeved shirts and pants, using insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535. Using bed nets and staying and sleeping in screened air conditioned rooms. Remember the mosquitoes that transmit Zika are mostly active during the daytime.
Worried? you have any concerns about Zika Virus, or think you may have been exposed, please contact your GP, Shore Birth midwife or specialist.