The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention is urging pregnant women to refrain from traveling to 14 countries and territories in the Caribbean and Latin America affected by the virus.
ATLANTA, GEORGIA, UNITED STATES (NBC) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday (January 21) discussed new guidelines for doctors caring for pregnant women who might have been exposed to Zika virus, a mosquito-borne infection that can cause brain damage in a developing fetus.
The new guidelines, first reported by Reuters, include a warning to pregnant women to avoid travel to 14 countries and territories in the Caribbean and Latin America affected by the virus. They include: Puerto Rico, Martinique, Haiti, El Salvador
Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Brazil, Colombia, French Guiana, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Mexico.
“We are quite concerned about the potential complications to the fetus of a Zika virus infection of pregnant women and so we really are advising that pregnant women seriously consider postponing travel to these areas if possible,” Dr. Beth Bell of the CDC said.
Pregnant women traveling to impacted areas should take precautions to limit their exposure to mosquitoes.
“Mosquitoes bite not just at night but also during the day. And so the measures that people need to take to prevent mosquito bites they have to use all the time not just at night,” Bell said.
She also recommended that pregnant women stay in places with screens on their doors and windows and use insect repellants such as DEET.
In Brazil, Zika has been linked to a rising number of cases of microcephaly, a condition associated with small head size and brain damage. Tourism officials in that country have tried to play down the risks as the country gears up for Carnivale and the 2016 Olympics, the first in South America.
In its latest to doctors, the CDC urges providers to ask pregnant women about their travel history. Women who have traveled to regions in which Zika is active and who report symptoms during or within two weeks of travel should be offered a test for Zika virus infection.
Those who test positive should be offered an ultrasound to check the fetus’s head size or check for calcium deposits in the brain, two indicators of microcephaly. These women should also be offered a test of their amniotic fluid called amniocentesis to confirm the presence of Zika virus.
Bell stressed that there are still many unknowns about the Zika virus.
“This is an emerging situation, it’s an emerging virus and things are definitely going to change,” Bell said.
There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which causes mild fever and rash. An estimated 80 percent of people infected with the virus have no symptoms at all, making it difficult for pregnant women to know whether they have been infected.