March 14, 2016 -- Ask pregnant women in Puerto Rico if they want a boy or a girl and you’ll get an age-old answer: They don’t care, as long as the baby is healthy.
But that statement carries new meaning in Puerto Rico these days. The news that Zika virus is being spread by the mosquitos here and infecting islanders -- including, at last count, 21 pregnant women --means the health of these women’s unborn children could be stolen at any time with one bite from a pest that’s lurking in their homes.
Some expectant moms have left the island rather than live with the threat.
Amanda Vaccaro, 27, left in February, when she was just a month away from her due date. She moved back to Ohio to live with her parents until after the baby, a girl she will name Grace, is born.
Her husband is in the Coast Guard and is stationed in Puerto Rico. He is still there as she plods through the last and most difficult weeks of her pregnancy.
“We couldn’t live with ourselves if something happened by me staying there,” she says.
Doctors believe that Zika infections may do the greatest damage during the early weeks of pregnancy, when a baby’s organs are still forming. Vaccaro was already in her third trimester when she decided to leave.
When she talked to her doctor about the risks, “He couldn’t really tell me yes or no because they don’t really have too much information on the virus.”
Because many people who get Zika won’t have symptoms, Vaccaro also took a blood test before she left to find out if she’s been exposed to the virus. She still doesn’t know the results.
She says several other Coast Guard moms have also decided to leave.
It wasn’t what she wanted.
“I didn’t want to be away from [my husband], so that was hard. We liked our doctor. Our nursery was there. Our home was there. It was really hard to decide,” she says.