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Holiday advice: the Zika virus and fertility, your questions answered

Zika Virus advice for patients

If you’re planning to conceive, are already pregnant or are having fertility treatment, you may be concerned about the risk of the Zika virus as you head off on holiday abroad this year. 

News about the Zika virus and its dangers to unborn babies and pregnant women made alarming headlines over the past few months.

Here we answer the key questions about Zika, fertility treatment and pregnancy, and outline how you can minimise your risk:

What is the Zika virus?

The Zika virus is a viral illness spread by being bitten by an infected mosquito. It is typically mild in most people, and lasts a few days. But it is thought to pose specific risks to pregnant women and those trying to conceive.

Why is Zika a problem in pregnancy?

If you’re pregnant and become infected with Zika, there is a risk of passing the infection to your baby. In some countries like Brazil, higher instances of birth defects were reported during a Zika outbreak, and there is widespread scientific belief of a link between the two. 

But further research is needed to understand exactly how Zika affects babies and pregnancy.

How can I protect myself against Zika?

You should avoid travelling to any of the countries where Zika is spreading. Affected areas include Latin America, South East Asia and the Caribbean. For up to date maps of transmission, you can check the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control(ECDC), which regularly updates the presence of global outbreaks and their severity.

If you’re pregnant and travelling to an affected country is unavoidable, you should ensure you follow strict measures to protect yourself against mosquito bites during your holiday. Advice includes wearing clothing that covers arms and legs and using appropriate repellents.

I’m not pregnant yet but we’re trying to conceive. Am I still at risk?

There have been a small number of reports of the sexual transmission of Zika through semen. If you’ve travelled to an area where Zika is active, or are planning to on holiday, we advise that any attempt to conceive – both naturally and through fertility treatment - is postponed for 8 weeks after your return, even if you have no symptoms. 

You should use condoms for any sexual activity during your holiday and once home for that 8 week period.

How do I know if I’ve caught Zika?

Zika doesn’t always cause symptoms in those infected. So you may not even be aware you have the virus. 

If you do have symptoms, they may include low-grade fever, headache, conjunctivitis (red, sore eyes), a rash, joint pain and fatigue. There is no treatment or vaccine.

I’ve had Zika symptoms – is it safe to have a baby?

If during your holiday or after your return home you or your partner develop suspected Zika symptoms, or the illness is confirmed, we advise that you do not try for a baby through fertility treatment or natural conception for six months.

You should ensure you use condoms for any form of sexual contact during this time.

Can I still donate my eggs or sperm if I’ve travelled to a Zika-affected country?

Yes, but only after 8 weeks have passed since your return as long as you have not had any symptoms.

More information

If you’d like to know more about Zika, read the Government advice and find out specific travel advice for your destination country.

If you have any questions, speak to our Patient Advisors or Nursing Team on 0161 300 2730.

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