Some Pregnant Women in US Should Be Tested for Zika Virus: CDC

Asian tiger mosquito Aedes albopictus, one of the species that can carry the Zika virus, begins its blood meal. (Image credit: James Gathany, CDC)

Some pregnant women who traveled to areas where Zika virus is spreading should be tested for the disease, health officials announced today.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today (Jan. 19) that pregnant women should be tested for Zika virus if they have two or more symptoms of the disease — such as fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes — and if these symptoms appeared during or within two weeks of travel to an area where the virus is spreading. These areas include Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname and Venezuela.

Pregnant women also should be tested for Zika virus if they have traveled to an area with Zika virus transmission and they have an ultrasound that shows microcephaly, a birth defect in which the baby's head is abnormally small.

The announcement comes less than a week after the CDC recommended that all pregnant women consider postponing travel to the areas currently affected by the Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitoes and recently emerged in the Americas.

The CDC made this recommendation based on reports in Brazil of a link between Zika virus infection during pregnancy and microcephaly in babies. Between October 2015 and January 2016, there were more than 3,500 cases of microcephaly in Brazil — a significant increase from the average of about 150 cases per year. Health officials also have found Zika virus in the brain tissue of infants born with microcephaly, but they are still investigating the link. [7 Devastating Infectious Diseases]

If a pregnant woman tests positive for Zika virus, she should have an ultrasound every three to four weeks to monitor fetus growth, the CDC said. Because there is no commercial test for Zika virus, doctors will need to work with state or local health departments to facilitate testing for their patients, the CDC said.

There is no specific treatment for Zika virus. People with the illness are usually recommended rest, fluids and use of pain or fever-reducing mediation, the CDC said. About 80 percent of people who get Zika virus don't have symptoms.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.