Everyone needs to be concerned about Lyme disease and Zika, especially those trying to conceive or who are pregnant. But we need to know the facts, not repeat the myths we sometimes hear, and we need them from reliable sources.
Fact: over 300,000 people per year are treated for Lyme disease in the US, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). (And psst - that estimate is probably low due to the challenges of positively identifying Lyme disease.)
Fact: There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika. Period. [CDC]
What does this mean for people trying to conceive or using assisted reproductive technology (ART)?
We asked a number of reliable sources for the real-deal breakdown of what it means to acquire Zika or Lyme during pre-pregnancy and pregnancy. Board-certified Reproductive Endocrinologists, from RMA of CT, Cynthia Murdock, MD and Shaun Williams, MD and Nursing managers Christina Dias and Brigitte Alicia discuss the reality versus hype about each of these illnesses and offer scientific advice on how to protect yourself.
Lyme Disease, Zika, and Pregnancy: What to Expect
Dr. Shaun Williams shares this comforting information on Lyme disease and pregnancy:
"The presentation and clinical severity of Lyme disease are not affected by pregnancy. The bacteria does not cross the placenta, and the general opinion is that Lyme disease does not lead to any adverse outcomes of a pregnancy. Treating Lyme disease during pregnancy is also safe, if necessary, although treatment regimens may need to be adjusted to avoid unsafe antibiotics."
So take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t protect yourself. Complications can still arise, so Lyme disease should always be avoided at all costs. We’ll get into that a little later…
What about Zika, though? That’s a different story.
The Zika virus originates with a mosquito bite from an infected mosquito, and it can be spread via sexual intercourse, a pregnant woman to her fetus, or through a blood transfusion. A Zika-infected infant can have major birth defects, including Microcephaly. Microcephaly is incurable and can cause many developmental defects.
The good news? According to the CDC, “in 2018 and 2019, there have been no reports of Zika virus transmission by mosquitoes in the continental United States.”
The bad news? It’s still prevalent in many popular vacation sites around the world (and even still possible within the US), so you must always be prepared, preventative, and proactive.
How to Prevent Lyme and Zika
Both Lyme and Zika are highly preventable if you take care of your body and its exposure. Dr. Williams offers this prevailing wisdom regarding how to avoid Lyme disease and Zika:
“Mosquito-borne illnesses are common in the summer months. Fortunately, Zika virus, which can cause major birth defects involving the brain, is not prevalent in the tri-state area. Other mosquito transmitted illnesses are, however, such as Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus and West Nile virus, and can be severe for all individuals, not just pregnant women. The use of DEET during the summer months can prevent these illnesses.
"The prevention of Lyme disease for women who are trying to conceive or who are already pregnant is recommended. The best prevention is knowledge and avoidance of areas where ticks are prevalent. Blacklegged ticks (the ticks that cause Lyme disease) live in moist and humid environments, particularly in and near wooded or grassy areas. Unfortunately, it's common to get a tick on you during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through leaves and bushes. To avoid ticks, walk in the center of trails and avoid walking through tall bushes or other vegetation.
The nursing staff at RMA of Connecticut suggests the use of DEET in any outdoor activities for women who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or undergoing fertility treatments.
Dr. Williams corroborates that information. “DEET has been shown to be safe in pregnant women and is considered very safe for women trying to conceive. It is the best protection for Lyme disease, Zika virus exposure, and other insect-borne illnesses. We recommend the use of DEET during outdoor activities during the summer months when ticks and mosquitoes are active. If you are outdoors, tick checks are also an important part of prevention. Spending a few moments after undressing to check for ticks can help prevent exposure but may also allow prevention of disease if early exposure has been identified.
“Again, DEET is safe, has been studied extensively in pregnant women, and has never been shown to cause cancer or other long-term illnesses in animals or humans. Whether on vacation or just outdoors here in the Northeast, using DEET whenever at risk is the best prevention of any tick or mosquito-borne problems."
Lyme Disease and Fertility Treatment
Dr. Cynthia Murdock shares her expertise on the specifics about fertility treatment cycles, including IUI's and IVF and Lyme disease:
"As there is no evidence or research that Lyme disease or a bite from a tick adversely affects or transfers the disease to either sperm or eggs, it therefore does not prevent a person’s seeking to conceive from undergoing fertility treatment cycles, such as IUI’s or IVF. Furthermore, there is no research that has been done to show that Lyme disease affects or transfers the disease to embryos. The one qualification regarding Lyme disease concerns a woman with an active case of Lyme during an IVF cycle, then embryos would be cryopreserved (frozen) rather than transferred back to the uterus. The severity of the Lyme disease in any individual and the course of treatment for that person could alter or delay certain fertility treatment cycles."
Be Aware, Be Safe
The bottom line is that we should all be trying to avoid Lyme disease and Zika, whether we’re pregnant or not. The best ways to do that? Steer clear of areas where Lyme and Zika are contracted, and diligently use DEET-based insect repellent. These are simple solutions to preventing a spectrum of complications.
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