Zika is beyond a doubt scariest for pregnant women, or for women trying to get pregnant. For women living in areas where the mosquito-borne virus is spreading, who are trying to make the huge decision of whether, and when, to have a child, there’s not a lot to go on. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that women who’ve gotten Zika should wait at least eight weeks to conceive, and that men who’ve gotten it should wait at least six months.
But the vast majority of people who are infected with Zika don’t show any symptoms, and children can still be born with birth defects and mothers can still miscarry, even if they never had symptoms. So it’s possible that microcephaly—a birth defect caused by Zika that leads to smaller-than-average head size and other developmental problems—could sneak up on parents who never knew one of them had Zika in the first place.
Margaret Chan, the director of the World Health Organization, summed up the harsh reality of the situation in her recent address to the 69th World Health Assembly: “To protect women of childbearing age, all we can offer is advice. Avoid mosquito bites. Delay pregnancy. Do not travel to areas with ongoing transmission.”