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Evolution of the Zika Virus Congenital Syndrome

Last updated July 30, 2016

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

The new guidelines urge pregnant women who may have had exposure to the virus to be tested up to 14 days after potential exposure.


With recent developments in the investigation of the Zika virus, some the world’s governing health bodies have updated the definition of Zika Congenital Syndrome.

The revised definition of Zika Congenital Syndrome resulted from a collective meeting of scientists from the United States, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the World Health Organization (WHO). The meeting, which was held in Brazil, brought about data and experiences pooled from experts in the region, which has been hit the hardest by the Zika virus. 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has since updated their guidance on testing pregnant women for the virus and avoiding sexual transmission, released a press release stating that the updates to their guidance on the Zika virus are grounded upon evidence collected, expert opinion, and information about risks associated with other viral infections.

With more research underway, scientists are discovering the full amount of damage the Zika virus can cause to the fetus. Birth defect patterns could be dependent upon which trimester the mother was infected, and there is potential for involvement of other vital body systems, including cardiac, digestive, and genitourinary.

It was previously thought that the Zika virus led to microcephaly and other brain deformities, conditions related to the central nervous system. However, the new evidence now links epilepsy, hearing and visual impairment, psychomotor development issues, and orthopedic problems to the Zika virus.

In light of this new evidence and expanded definition, the CDC has updated its guidelines on the time frame for testing pregnant women by expanding the testing period. The new guidelines urge pregnant women who may have had exposure to the virus to be tested up to 14 days after potential exposure. This time frame differs from the previously recommended 7 days, as new information suggest the virus can linger in the blood for longer than a week. For more guidelines on testing, visit the CDC website.

The CDC reported a case in July of the suspected female to male sexual transmission of the virus. Since then, the CDC has updated their guidelines on the sexual transmission of the Zika virus due to new evidence that the Zika RNA can be found in vaginal secretions. The CDC suggests that exposure to the virus can occur from sex without a barrier method or with any person who resides or who has traveled to a region affected by the Zika virus.  

In order to protect pregnant women, the CDC urges that condoms be used for vaginal or anal sex, as well as other barriers for oral sex, and that the barriers are used consistently for the full extent of the pregnancy. For more guidelines on sexual transmission, visit the CDC website.

As more research is conducted and knowledge of Zika Congential Syndrome evolves, it is imperative to consistently monitor reports from world health bodies, such as the CDC and WHO, to remain proactive and informed about avoiding transmission of the Zika Virus.

Primary Reference

Schnirring, L. (2016 Jul 25). New Zika recs expand congenital syndrome, fine-tune testing, sex guidance. Retrieved from http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2016/07/new-zika-recs-expand-congenital-syndrome-fine-tune-testing-sex-guidance

Additional References

Davidson A, Slavinski S, Komoto K, Rakeman J, Weiss D. (2016 Jul 15). Suspected Female-to-Male Sexual Transmission of Zika Virus — New York City, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6528e2.htm?s_cid=mm6528e2_w#suggestedcitation

(2016 Jul 25). Pregnant women should discuss Zika risk at every check-up, CDC says. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/25/zika-pregnant-women-doctors-sex-partners-cdc

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 30, 2016
Last updated: July 30, 2016