Pregnancy Planning in the Age of Zika

Pregnancy Planning in the Age of Zika

Despite promising declines in unplanned pregnancy rates in recent years, 45% of pregnancies in the United States are still unplanned. With the CDC watching closely for cases of Zika in the U.S., it’s more important than ever to be intentional about our actions. Never before have there been a broader array or more effective contraceptive options—that combined with a condom—can prevent both an unplanned pregnancy and the transmission of Zika.

What does Zika have to do with it?

In a nutshell, there are a lot of women in the U.S. who are at risk of pregnancy, don’t want to get pregnant, and aren’t using contraception consistently or at all. These women comprise the vast majority of unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “[the] 18% of women at risk [of pregnancy] who use contraceptives but do so inconsistently account for 41% of unintended pregnancies, while the 14% of women at risk who do not use contraceptives at all or have a gap in use of one month or longer account for 54% of unintended pregnancies.”

In other words, contraception could have a huge role in reducing rates of unplanned pregnancy.

Zika can cause severe birth defects like microcephaly in babies whose mothers are infected with the virus while pregnant. While there are myriad reasons to encourage pregnancy planning that have nothing to do with Zika, the challenges that come with parenting a child with severe microcephaly raise the stakes. With public health experts anticipating more cases of Zika in the continental U.S. in coming months, it is more important than ever to ensure that all people have access to effective contraception.

What do we know about Zika?

Unfortunately, there's a lot that experts still don't know about Zika. We know the virus is primarily spread through the bite of an infected mosquito, and that it can be transmitted through sexual contact. New polling data from the National Campaign reveals half of U.S. adults are not aware that Zika can be sexually transmitted. The symptoms of Zika are often mild and temporary, if there are any symptoms at all,  so people infected with the virus may not even realize they’ve had it. For the time being, people in the continental U.S. mainly need to worry about Zika if they’re traveling to an affected area or having sexual contact with someone who has. You can find out which areas the CDC considers risky via their Travel Health Notices page. Those traveling to affected areas should avoid mosquitoes, use condoms in addition to any other birth control they are currently using, or consider changing their travel plans.

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Publication date: June 2016