Although little is known about the virus, current evidence suggests American mothers-to-be are at little risk, says Dr. Rink Murray
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (March 2016) – For the time being, most women living in the United States need not let the outbreak of the Zika virus postpone pregnancy through natural conception or in vitro fertilization (IVF), says a Chattanooga fertility specialist.
“As frightening as the Zika virus may seem right now to mothers-to-be, there are multiple reasons it potentially poses a lesser risk than delaying having a baby,” said Rink Murray, MD, reproductive endocrinologist at Tennessee Reproductive Medicine, a fertility clinic he co-founded in 2008.
Early evidence suggests the Zika virus – which has been concentrated in Central and South American countries so far – may cause microcephaly, a birth defect in which the baby’s head is abnormally small, as well as Guillain-Barré.
However, for years intended mothers have safely avoided risks from the much more prevalent chicken pox and measles viruses, among others, Dr. Murray said. Moreover, older women generally take bigger chances of having a child with birth defects if they waited months or years, due to fears of Zika.
For example, at age 35 a woman’s odds of delivering a baby with Down syndrome are 1 in 350. Waiting just one year increases the odds to 1 in 275. By age 38, it’s 1 in 175, or about six-tenths of one percent.
In contrast, even in Brazil, which may have the highest concentration of known Zika cases, the rate of microcephaly in newborns appears to be less than 1 in 500, based on the latest available statistics.
“This is not to say it can’t happen in the U.S.,” Murray said. “But our standard of living and climate protect us better than in more tropical countries where mosquito-borne illnesses are common due to rampant poverty, lack of windows that close securely and cramped living quarters.”
While there has not been a major outbreak of Zika in the U.S., doctors and scientists still don’t know the true risk. Additionally, there is no vaccine or cure, and only 1 in 5 infected people ever exhibit symptoms.
Consequently, said Dr. Murray, American women of reproductive age exposed to mosquitoes should take reasonable precautions, such as using pregnancy-safe insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants outdoors, and avoiding travel to Central and South America.
About Tennessee Reproductive Medicine
Tennessee Reproductive Medicine is a full-service reproductive endocrinology and fertility clinic located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with satellite monitoring centers in Knoxville, Tenn., Cookeville, Tenn. and Rome, Ga. TRM’s goal is to provide the most advanced medical and surgical care to patients suffering from infertility, recurrent pregnancy loss, endometriosis, reproductive endocrine disorders (such as polycystic ovary syndrome and premature ovarian failure), abnormal menses and menopause.