An infection with the Zika virus usually has no symptoms. Any symptoms that do occur are usually very mild. However, in Brazil doctors saw more babies with microcephaly (small heads) at the time of the outbreak of the Zika virus. The link between the Zika virus and microcephaly is now being studied intensively. The Zika virus cannot spread in The Netherlands. As a precaution RIVMNational Institute for Public Health and the Environment provides travel advice for pregnant women and women who want to become pregnant for areas where the Zika virus is prevalent.

Travel advice 

 

Before the journey 

The Zika virus occurs in (sub)tropical regions. As a precaution the following advice applies to pregnant women and women who want to become pregnant (soon):

  • Discuss with a doctor the need for a journey to areas where the Zika virus is prevalent.
  • Postpone non-essential journeys.

Before their planned journey women can seek advice from their local health authority or can contact a doctor, obstetrician or gynaecologist.

In the Tropics

Pregnant women in the Tropics should always – during the day and at night – take strict measures to avoid mosquito bites:

  • Cover your skin with clothing (long sleeves, long trousers).
  • Use a mosquito repellent containing DEET on uncovered skin. Children under two and pregnant women should only use products with a maximum of 30% DEET. 
  • Always sleep under an (impregnated) mosquito net or in a mosquito-free room.  

After the journey

  • Pregnant women should report any recent visit to countries where the Zika virus is prevalent during their regular check-ups with their obstetrician or GP, especially if they have any symptoms within two weeks of their return that are in keeping with an infection by the Zika virus. 
  • Men who have been in countries where the Zika virus is prevalent and whose wife is pregnant are advised as a precaution to use a condom in the case of sexual contact for up to two months  after their return. 
  • Women who want to become pregnant are advised to postpone this until at least two months after their return from a country where the Zika virus is prevalent. During this time they should use a condom in the case of sexual contact.

Microcephaly and the Zika virus

Microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby's head is much smaller than the average. Microcephaly can be caused by premature birth among other things, it can be hereditary, it can be caused by exposure to toxic substances (including tobacco and alcohol), it can be caused by malnutrition and it can be caused by certain infections during pregnancy. In The Netherlands around 250 - 300 babies a year have microcephaly.

Since November 2015 doctors in Brazil have been seeing increasing numbers of microcephalic babies. This type of brain damage can have various causes. However, the increase coincides with the outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil. The local health authorities are suggesting that the brain damage is possibly linked to the Zika virus. We still do not know for sure if this is the case. Various studies are currently being carried out to ascertain the cause of the increase in the number of babies with microcephaly. Until then advice is being issued as a precaution for pregnant women and for women who want to get pregnant.