Zika virus complicates family planning for couples

The Georgia Department of Public Health is confirming the state's first case of sexual transmission of the Zika virus. State epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek, DVM, says the case involves a man who traveled to Brazil earlier this year, was infected and then returned home to Georgia where he passed the virus on to his female partner through sexual intercourse.  The woman is not pregnant.

The CDC is now advising pregnant women and their partners not to travel to almost 50 countries and territories, most in Latin America and the Caribbean.

North Atlanta OBGYN's Dr. Meera Garcia works with patients like Alpharetta's Alyssa Drishpon, who are planning families in the uneasy wake of the Zika virus.

Drishpon got pregnant this winter on a family trip to the Dominican Republic.

She's tested negative for Zika virus, but is still getting monthly ultrasounds to track her unborn baby's development as a precaution.

In all, the CDC says 279 pregnant women in the U.S. and its territories have contracted Zika virus disease, all through travel to areas where mosquitoes are spreading the virus.

"We have definitely had patients who panicked, and had to be talked off the ledge so to speak,” says Dr. Garcia.  “We've definitely had patient who are in the process of making travel plans or have just returned who wanted to talk about it."

Inside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's emergency operations center in Atlanta, hundreds of staffers are tracking Zika virus, which now being spread primarily through mosquito bites.

But Zika can also be sexually transmitted.  And it's a major concern because the virus seems to target fetal development, and can cause severe birth defects in babies born to women infected during their pregnancy.

"But we don't have a treatment for it,” says Dr. Garcia. “And we don't have a way of preventing it."

So, the CDC is advising pregnant women and women trying to conceive to avoid travel to 48-countries and territories with active Zika transmission.

"There are actually situations where I recommend my patient bring her partner or spouse in,” says Dr. Garcia. “A lot of times, these situations are when the spouse travels for work, travels to these areas."

For now, Dr. Garcia is advising couples considering pregnancy to make a tough choice.

"If you’re thinking about conceiving in the near future, and you're thinking about travelling to the Caribbean and Central or South America, we have to change one of these two things,” Garcia says.

If couples choose to travel to these areas, or can't avoid it, Dr. Garcia says it's important to use contraception to delay pregnancy, just to be safe.

"It's a hard decision,” Garcia says. “It's very hard to tell someone when they should or shouldn’t conceive, however contraception is so important in this situation for these patients who want to travel and are willing to postpose their pregnancy."

There is no local transmission of Zika virus here in the continental U.S.   But that could change as we move into summer and mosquito season.

So, the CDC is advising pregnant women to wear an EPA-approved insect-repellant to try to avoid mosquito bites.