West Nile Virus Risky for Pregnant Women?

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If you are a pregnant woman living in an area affected by the West Nile virus you may be concerned about whether contracting the virus is risky for your unborn child.

According to MedicineNet, if you do become infected with the virus, there is a very small risk that you will pass it on to your child and your child could develop serious complications.  In fact, in 2002, a baby who contracted the virus from his mother developed brain damage, presumably caused by the virus.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, states that a pregnant woman’s risk for becoming infected is not any greater than anyone else’s.  And, it is very unlikely that you will pass it on to your child.  In fact, there have only been a few cases where newborn infants have been infected with the virus.

It is unknown whether the virus might also increase a woman’s risk for miscarriage.  Although there have been a few instances where infected women spontaneously aborted their babies, it is not clear whether the virus caused it.   Also, most women have gone on to deliver normal, healthy babies.

The CDC says that the best way for pregnant women to avoid getting the West Nile virus is to take the necessary precautions.  You should avoid any risky areas where there are mosquitoes, wear clothing that will protect your skin and use insect repellent.

While you may be tempted to avoid insect repellents if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, the CDC recommends that you do use them.  The only way to avoid being infected with West Nile virus is to avoid being bitten by infected mosquitoes.  Insect repellents will help you avoid these bites.   The ingredients commonly used in insect repellents are EPA-registered and considered to be safe when used properly.

The CDC recommends that insect repellents should be applied only to exposed skin or clothing; they should never be sprayed under your clothing.  You should also avoid spraying them into cuts, wounds or irritated skin.  They should never be sprayed directly into your face, but rather sprayed onto your hands and then applied to your face.  You should avoid your eyes and mouth and use them sparingly around the ears.  A heavy application of repellent is not necessary.

If you are a pregnant woman who contracts the virus around the time that you give birth you should also be aware that it may be somewhat risky to breastfeed your baby, although this has not yet been proven.  In 2002, there was a case where a woman contracted the West Nile virus from a blood transfusion.  The virus was found in her breast milk not long after she became ill and the baby tested positive for it as well.  The baby remained healthy and did not develop any symptoms, however.   At this time, health officials do not recommend that you stop breastfeeding your baby if you contract the virus because there are so many well-known benefits that come from breastfeeding.

Written by:  Nancy Schimelpfening

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

WebMD

MedicineNet

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