As surrogates, you’ve likely all had at least one healthy pregnancy by now, but safety instructions and best practices during pregnancy change all the time. With the introduction of Zika virus, mosquito bites are no longer just an annoyance, but a real reason to take precautions.
Mosquito Bites Can Be Dangerous
Historically, worries about mosquito bites have surrounded things like dengue fever, malaria, and more recently, West Nile Virus. With dengue fever and malaria typically impacting regions outside the US as well as those who travel to those areas, West Nile caught the US by surprise a few years back and raised awareness for mosquito-borne illnesses. Although rare, West Nile can be transmitted from a surrogate to the baby she carries and may also be transmitted via breast milk. Roughly 1-in-5 people infected will have symptoms and only 1-in-150 will have severe symptoms, per the CDC. This includes “Illness affecting the central nervous system such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord).”
Zika virus also rarely impacts those in the US. There are only a few previously-reported cases in the states of Texas and Florida, though no active cases and no recorded transmissions. Greater worries come from outside the US, particularly those who have been to Mexico, South America, and Africa, as well as a handful of other regions as outlined on the CDC Zika map. That said, Congenital Zika Syndrome, can impact a developing baby’s health, resulting in microcephaly (small skull size), reduced brain tissue, eye abnormalities, and other birth defects.
Surrogates Attract More Mosquitos
While the CDC makes it clear that pregnant women are not at greater risk for contracting mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile, as not every mosquito is a carrier for disease, scientific literature does show that mosquitos carrying malaria are more prone to target pregnant women. Experts say this is because mosquitos are attracted to carbon dioxide (CO2) and heat, which they use to detect their next meal. Women in the later stages of pregnancy exhale 21% more CO2 and run slightly warmer than their non-pregnant counterparts, meaning they genuinely are the more obvious targets for mosquitos. While studies have predominantly been performed in third-world countries and pinpoint women leaving their protective tents at night for more bathroom breaks as another risk factor, issues such as this are not a concern for the greater US population.
Be Aware, But Don’t Panic
If you’re worried about mosquito-borne illness, have a discussion with your medical provider. He or she can go over all your specific risk factors with you and will likely set your mind at ease. Because there are very few issues in the US related to mosquito-borne illnesses, prevention is typically done out of an abundance of caution; simply because you’re carrying precious cargo. Moreover, protecting yours and the baby’s health is incredibly easy to do when it comes to mosquito bites.
Four Ways to Keep Mosquitos (and Mosquito-Borne Illnesses) at Bay While Pregnant
1) Cover up when you go outside. Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts while outdoors. The CDC says it’s also helpful to treat clothing with permethrin. This is a medication and insecticide commonly used through the US. It’s actually the main ingredient in Nix lice treatment and has been tested as safe for pregnant and lactating women. The EPA notes that it works well to repel mosquitos and ticks, among other insects. Clothing can be purchased pre-treated with permethrin or it can be purchased as an aftermarket spray.
2) Use repellant. DEET and picaridin are considered safe during pregnancy by the CDC and EPA. These are the primary ingredients in most common insect repellants, but it’s always a good idea to check the label before purchasing.
3) Secure your home. While you may not be leaving your tent throughout the night to run to the restroom, you probably won’t spend your days in a small sheltered net either. To keep mosquitos out, try to use the air conditioning and close the windows. If you prefer the air or don’t have AC, make sure all windows are screened and that there aren’t any gaps to let mosquitos in. Take a walk around the exterior of your home to look for and eliminate standing water every few days as well, as that can be a mosquito breeding ground.
4) Protect your family. Certain mosquito-borne illnesses can be transmitted from person-to-person as well. For example, malaria can be transmitted in bodily fluids. A sneeze can spread it. Zika can be transmitted through unprotected sex, so if your physician has cleared you to resume normal activities with your partner, it’s important to be aware that your partner could transmit Zika to you and take precautions there too. Again, your physician can go over all your risk factors with you and help you create a plan of action to stay safe.
Call EDSI if You Want to Become a Surrogate
The Egg Donor and Surrogacy Institute wants to be your partner in care. If you’re considering becoming a surrogate and haven’t signed up with an agency, EDSI will guide you through the process, ensure you’re matched with parents you make a good team with, and verify you stay protected—legally, medically, and financially—as you continue on this selfless and heartwarming journey. Start by reviewing our surrogacy guidelines and reach out to us when you’re ready to begin.