Internationally, in Brazil and elsewhere, women who were infected with the Zika virus during their pregnancy have had babies born with severe birth defects. A big concern has been microcephaly, where a baby’s head and brain remain very small and fail to develop properly. Affected babies are likely to suffer severe developmental disabilities and may have a reduced lifespan. Understandably, this finding has caused distress and concern in prospective parents who have been exposed to the Zika virus. Health professionals are still learning about the Zika virus and gathering evidence to better quantify the risk to pregnant women and their babies.
About the Zika Virus
The Zika virus is mostly spread by the Aedes species of mosquitoes, but it can also be sexually transmitted from person to person. The mosquitoes that spread Zika can only be found in tropical regions. These mosquitoes are not present in Victoria. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Victorian couples may be at risk of contracting Zika if they travel to an affected area. For couples planning a pregnancy, it may be safest to avoid travelling to places where Zika virus is present.
A list of countries and areas where Zika is a problem can be found on the Australian Government Department of Health Website (link is external).
Where the male partner must travel to a Zika affected area
The American Society of Reproductive Medicine recommends avoiding unprotected sexual contact for eight weeks after a male partner has a potential exposure to the Zika virus. More than 80% of adults who are infected by the Zika virus have no symptoms and may not realise they have been infected.
If you do need to travel to a Zika affected area, you can reduce your risk by taking precautions against mosquito bites like using repellents and covering up.
What if a person is symptomatic or Zika virus infection is confirmed?
Current advice is that Zika infected men and women should wait six months before trying to have a baby with their partner. Testing for Zika virus is complicated, not universally available and routine testing is not currently recommended. If you have been to a Zika affected region and have had symptoms, your doctor may advise you to wait six months before trying to have a baby.
Advice for IVF couples
Consider freezing sperm
In couples undergoing active fertility treatment, it may be worth considering freezing sperm to use if the male partner is planning travel to a Zika-affected region. This can avoid a recommended delay in continuing their fertility treatment.
Consider delaying frozen embryo transfer
If a woman who has had IVF treatment and has frozen embryos stored has had a possible exposure to the Zika virus, it may be advisable to wait 8 weeks prior to planning a frozen embryo transfer.
Egg and sperm donors
People should not donate their eggs or sperm for use in assisted reproduction if they have been to a Zika affected region within the previous 8 weeks. If infection was suspected or confirmed, a person should not donate their eggs or sperm for 6 months.