What’s a pregnant woman to do when the Zika virus comes to town? Some of them are packing up and moving to safer areas — even when that means moving across the country.
Christina Frigo was 32 weeks pregnant when the Zika virus came to her hometown of Miami late last month. Those cases were the first confirmed accounts of the Zika virus in the United States. Since then, the CDC has identified two areas in Miami with confirmed cases of Zika, and they currently advise pregnant women to not travel to the area.
One of the most frightening aspects of Zika is that you and your partner might not even know you have it. “We now know that the Zika virus can stay in semen up to six months,” Astroglide TTC sexual health advisor Dr. Draion M. Burch tells SheKnows. “The Zika virus can still be present even if your partner has no symptoms.”
This lack of symptoms makes it dangerous for Florida residents to try to conceive, while also leaving pregnant women like Frigo unable to know for sure whether they’ve contracted the virus. This uncertainty contributed to the fear Frigo felt once she knew Zika was in Miami. Only a few days after hearing the news, the couple decided they needed to leave town.
“In the five days between when I heard the news of local transmission and when we made the decision to leave, I was feeling the most stressed and scared that I have felt during my entire pregnancy,” Frigo tells SheKnows.
Before deciding to leave Miami, the couple consulted with their OB-GYN. Frigo’s initial idea was that they could move in with her in-laws in Boca Raton, about an hour north of Miami, but her doctor soon told her otherwise. “[My OB-GYN] said [Boca Raton] most likely wouldn’t be far enough away,” Frigo says. “When we mentioned Chicago as an option, he told us that if we could make it happen, it was a good idea to go.”
Packing up and moving from Florida to Chicago is no easy task at the best of times, but it was even more difficult for Frigo. She spent upward of 20 hours on the phone trying to find a new OB-GYN in Chicago who would accept her as a patient so late in her pregnancy, and then she and her husband had to coordinate a temporary relocation. They are now staying with her parents in Chicago.
Zika is undeniably dangerous for pregnant women, but not all physicians agree that it’s necessary for them to leave infected areas. There are precautions pregnant women can take to reduce their risk of contracting Zika without requiring them to uproot their families and move.
“In general the risk is low and can be made lower by taking simple protective measures, such as using air-conditioning, placing screens on windows, using insect repellent, removing standing water, etc.,” Dan Olson, assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital Colorado and a senior investigator at the Center for Global Health at the Colorado School of Public Health, tells SheKnows. “Women living within the specific areas with confirmed Zika transmission should use these measures to limit their risk as much as possible, and this alone can bring the risk down significantly.”
Still, despite the difficulty involved in their temporary relocation to Chicago, Frigo says she is relieved to not be at risk for contracting the Zika virus any longer. “If moving had been impossible for us, I would still be shut up in our house, paranoid anytime my husband opened the door to come in or let the dog out,” she told SheKnows. “It wouldn’t have been good for my mental state.”