Zika Virus – Information for pregnant women

This fact sheet provides a summary of information relevant for pregnant women. If you are planning a pregnancy you should either follow the advice relating to pregnant women, or delay the pregnancy for an appropriate time. For more information, refer to the Zika virus fact sheet – the basics or talk to your doctor.

Page last updated: 18 December 2020

What we know

  • Zika virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby.
  • This can cause severe birth defects, in particular, a condition called microcephaly (small head or brain). Microcephaly is just one of the signs and symptoms of congenital Zika virus syndrome (CZVS) that can be present at birth or appear later in infancy such as seizures (fits), irritability, swallowing problems, hearing and sight abnormalities.
  • Based on current evidence, the risk of birth defects appears to relate to all stages or trimesters of pregnancy.
  • Zika spreads through the bite of infected mosquitoes. You can also get Zika from sex without a condom with someone who has Zika, even if that person does not have symptoms.
  • There is no vaccine to prevent Zika. There is no medicine to treat Zika. Pregnant women should avoid infection.

Travel Recommendations for Pregnant women from the Department of Health

If you are pregnant you should consider deferring travel to areas of risk for Zika virus.

If you are pregnant and thinking of travelling to a country where there is the potential for Zika transmission, you should have a discussion with your doctor about the possible risks for your particular trip to help you make a decision about whether travelling to this area is right for you at this time.

If your partner travels to an area with Zika, you can be infected through sex even if you don’t travel. Refer to Zika virus fact sheet – the basics or talk to your doctor for further information.

For information on areas of risk for Zika virus, visit the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Zika Travel Information webpage. This page provides information about CDC travel recommendations for Zika by country and traveller type. This website is regularly updated and is subject to change. Regular review of the CDC Zika Travel Information webpage is recommended.

What to do if you do decide to travel to a country where Zika is present.

If you do decide to travel to an area of risk for Zika virus, or if you live in one of these countries, you should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and always practice safe sex.

Mosquito bite prevention

It is important to be aware that these precautions are necessary in both the daytime and night time:

  • Cover as much exposed skin as possible, including wearing light coloured long-sleeved shirts and long pants;
  • Use insect repellents, applied according to the product label. Note that insect repellents containing DEET or Picaridin are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Use insecticide-treated (such as Permethrin) clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks, and tents); and
  • Stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms. Use bed nets if you cannot keep mosquitoes from coming inside the room.

Safe sex

While pregnant, you should avoid unprotected sex with any partner who has been to a Zika affected country for the duration of the pregnancy. This means if you have sex, you must use condoms or dental dams every time you have sex (oral, vaginal or anal).

After travel

  • Talk to a doctor after travel to an area of risk for Zika virus to discuss the need for testing.
  • If you develop symptoms such as a fever, rash, headache, joint pain, red eyes, or muscle pain, talk to your doctor immediately and tell them about your travel.

Zika Testing for Pregnant Women

Testing will be offered to pregnant women who have travelled to an area of risk for Zika virus.

In some circumstances testing will be offered if a couple is planning pregnancy following travel to an area of risk for Zika virus if there are concerns about the consequences of delaying pregnancy for the recommended time periods.

Non-pregnant people with symptoms of Zika virus infection and who have may have been exposed to Zika through travel or sex need to be tested.

The available tests for Zika virus may require 4 weeks following the last potential exposure to give a result. For some women, the results will not be able to say that they have not had a Zika virus infection. Refer to Information for Travellers about Zika virus testing for more information.

There is no specific treatment for Zika virus if a positive test is returned. A positive test in the mother cannot indicate whether the baby is infected or harmed.

Preventing Zika when planning a pregnancy

Women who are planning pregnancy or at risk of pregnancy should consider deferring travel as per the recommendations for pregnant women, or avoid pregnancy. For more information, refer to the Zika virus factsheet — the basics.