family paper ringThe spread of the ZIKA virus in many of the warm weather vacation spots has brought a new level of anxiety to planning winter getaways, especially for people planning to grow their family.

The guidelines coming from the experts such as the CDC and professional organizations such as the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), have changed several times this year as more information becomes available. This can make it difficult to find the most up to date information.

Though it is not clear the consequences in women trying to become pregnant, what is clear is that pregnancies can be severely affected by infection with the ZIKA virus. Significant fetal damage can occur.  Also neurological damage of varying types can occur in adults that become infected.  Men and women can transmit ZIKA virus via sexual contact, thus ZIKA virus is a sexually transmitted disease as well as a mosquito born disease.

To help prevent the disease from spreading, we recommend the following:

  • Men who have traveled to an area where ZIKA is active should not have unprotected sex with a partner for 6 months after returning from travel.
  • Women should not become pregnant for 2 months after returning from travel.

These new time guidelines for delaying pregnancy were put forward by the CDC in September 2016 and are quite different from those in March and July. The previous guidelines only applied to those that had symptoms of infection.  These apply to anyone who has traveled to at risk areas regardless of mosquito bites or symptoms.

What does this mean if you are undergoing infertility care?

The answers vary according to the individual situations. For someone who is planning to start IVF in the next several weeks or months, we recommend that they not travel to a potentially risky area. These areas are updated regularly on the CDC website.

If you really need that time in the sun and your personal situation will allow you to delay fertility care, then we recommend that couples use a highly reliable form of contraception for the 6 months after they return from the vacation or travel and resume treatment or trying to conceive after that time is completed.

In situations where a male partner may need to travel to a risky area, then sperm cryopreservation (sperm banking) before the trip for use later is an option for some couples.

We recommend patients plan ahead with their vacation and travel plans as well as their fertility treatment and pregnancy plans.  Those that must or want to travel should seriously consider using 6 months of reliable contraception.  Those that wish to deviate from the CDC guidelines need to fully understand the consequences of their choices and know what the available alternatives are.

As always patients should be in contact with their doctors to get the most up-to-date advice for their individual situations.

Elizabeth McGee, MD, is a reproductive endocrinologist and gynecologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center and professor of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.

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