United States federal health officials are expected to make a decision either today or tomorrow on whether to warn pregnant women against travel to Caribbean and Latin American countries where the Zika virus has been confirmed.
According to the New York Times, they’re giving consideration to issuing the warning because of the link between the mosquito-borne virus and microcephaly, a rare neurological disorder in infants in which the size of the brain is abnormally small.
The New York Times reports that if the advisory is issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it would the first time the agency has ever advised pregnant women to avoid a specific region during an outbreak.
“We can’t make these decisions in a vacuum,” said CDC spokesman, Thomas Skinner. “We’re consulting with other experts outside.”
Although it often causes only mild rashes and fevers, women who have contracted the virus, particularly in the first trimester of pregnancy, appear to be much more likely to have children with microcephaly.
Hundreds of babies with the disorder have been born in Brazil to mothers who contracted the Zika virus while they were pregnant.
The New York Times notes that microcephaly has several other causes, including genetic defects or rubella or cytomegalovirus in the mother during pregnancy.
But the CDC’s director of vector-borne diseases, Dr. Lyle R. Petersen, said yesterday that the agency had found Zika virus in tissue from four Brazilian infants – two of whom had microcephaly and died shortly after birth, and two of whom died in the womb – and it “looked like what you’d see if an infection was the cause”.
Previously, Brazilian scientists had found the virus in tissue or amniotic fluid from three malformed fetuses.
“This certainly provides much stronger evidence of the linkage,” Dr. Petersen said.
Because of the apparent link, doctors in Brazil have advised women against getting pregnant until the Zika outbreak has subsided. A similar warning was issued this week in the Dominican Republic by the country’s Public Health Minister Altagracia Guzman.
Local transmission of Zika virus has been found in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela.