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Zika Risks Could Be Higher Than Originally Thought, Research Suggests

Photograph by Twenty20

If you're considering an international trip this summer, you might want to weigh your risk of Zika before you book your flights.

Once a news headliner, the articles and warnings about the Zika virus have died down somewhat over the past year, but a new report is putting Zika back in the spotlight. The new study, published this week in Nature Medicine, found that the rate of pregnancy loss was high in Zika-infected non-human primates, even if they didn't show signs of infection from the virus.

More specifically, the research revealed that 26 percent of the primates (not humans, to be clear) miscarried or delivered stillborn babies later in their pregnancies after being infected with the virus in early gestation. That rate was found to be nearly three times higher than the 8 percent of women who were found to be infected with Zika early in their pregnancies, according to a separate study.

So, what does this mean for human primates?

It means that scientists are speculating that Zika might be causing more miscarriages in humans than previously thought, because about half of people who are infected with Zika never show any symptoms. So, a large percentage of women who have Zika will never know it and might miscarry without getting tested or knowing that they carried the virus at all.

Scientists are speculating that Zika might be causing more miscarriages in humans than previously thought.

The findings from the new study are not a cause for panic, of course, but they do serve as a reminder for women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant soon to carefully consider travel plans to areas that are at risk for Zika. Without a lot of warnings in the news anymore about the virus, some women might mistakenly think that the threat of Zika is over or that it does not pose a risk during pregnancy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posts updated news about Zika on its website. The site states that the current number of lab-proven Zika cases in the United States stands at 2,465—but none of those cases happened as a result of a mosquito in the U.S. (People developed infections while traveling outside of the U.S.)

To help prevent Zika, the CDC has different prevention recommendations based on your pregnancy plans and partner status. In general, if a woman has traveled to a Zika-infected area or has a male partner who has traveled to a Zika-infected area, they should avoid sex for at least six months before trying to conceive. If she has a female partner, they should avoid sex (which includes oral sex) for at least eight weeks. The CDC also notes that the risk of Zika transmission can be decreased by using a condom for anyone who is concerned about getting the virus.

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