By Eric Tegethoff
Washington News Service
SEATTLE, Wash. – As temperatures rise this summer, the threat of the Zika virus looms for many Americans. The risk of contracting the virus in the Northwest is low; the two species of mosquitoes that carry the disease don’t typically travel farther north than California’s Bay Area. However, contraction of the disease through sexual transmission and travel are still threats, especially to women becoming or already pregnant.
Valerie Tarico, senior writing fellow at the Seattle research center Sightline Institute, who recently wrote an article on Zika’s threat to Northwest women for the Institute, said the most severe effects of Zika occur to developing fetuses.
“So that makes prevention of pregnancy during a time of Zika risk the most important thing we can do to stop long-term harms,” she said.
The Zika virus is linked to a condition called microcephaly. Microcephaly has severe effects on the development of a baby’s brain. Florida officials confirmed the first case of a baby born with Zika-related microcephaly in the nation this week.
Because nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended in Washington, Tarico said parents are playing a “Zika-pregnancy roulette” this summer. She said better birth control would reduce everyone’s risk. Tarico adds that the CDC also has started to talk about family planning as a way to prevent Zika’s effects.
“At first, the CDC was focused on what they call vector control, trying to figure out how to limit mosquitoes,” she said. “But that’s way harder than simply providing women with birth control that they already want in order to allow them to time their pregnancies.”
This week, U.S. senators voted down a $1.1 billion bill to fight Zika because of provisions in it that would block funding for birth control.
Tarico said new contraceptive methods are especially promising for fighting the potential Zika crisis. While older methods such as birth control and the use of condoms have a failure rate of, respectively, 1 in 11 and 1 in 4, IUDs have a failure rate of only 1 in 500. Tarico said the potential crisis provides the state with an opportunity.
“These new birth-control methods really change people’s lives for the better in a whole bunch of ways,” she added. “The ability of parents to time their pregnancies and to bring children into the world when they feel ready has all kinds of cascading benefits for families and for kids.”