Health officials in El Salvador are warning women to avoid pregnancy until 2018.
They’re joining a handful of Latin American and Caribbean countries that have echoed the same advice as the Zika virus spreads.
Brazil, Jamaica, Ecuador, Honduras and Colombia urged their citizens to stave off pregnancy until doctors better understand if the infection tampers with brain development in infants. So far, it’s been linked to a 20-fold increase in a rare defect in babies.
The virus can’t spread in Canada because the country’s mosquitoes can’t carry the virus, experts say. So far, Canada recorded three cases, but they’re all linked to travel to affected regions.
“We see ourselves obligated to make this recommendation to partners trying to get pregnant,” El Salvador’s vice minister of health, Dr. Eduardo Espinoza, told reporters. He said the recommendation was a “secondary” measure due to “the fact that these mosquitoes exist and transmit the disease.”
Like Dengue, West Nile and Yellow fever, Zika virus is a mosquito-borne tropical disease, meaning they transmit the disease to humans.
“Mosquitoes are the perfect vector. They normally don’t suffer from having the virus in them and they are blood transfusers,” Canadian microbiologist, Jason Tetro, explains.
In short, mosquitoes draw blood from the infected animal then re-inject the blood – with the virus in tow – into others at their next meal.
Zika virus first appeared in Brazil in May 2015. Months later, health officials noted a rise in birth defects in the country as it grapples with the largest epidemic of the disease so far.
Earlier this month, the CDC said it found the strongest evidence so far tying the virus to a rare condition known as microcephaly, in which babies are born with irregularly small heads and underdeveloped brains.
“We have to take an abundance of caution now to ensure we have a better understanding of what the relationship is and in the meantime protect women who are pregnant or may become pregnant,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a tropical infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital and the University of Toronto, told Global News.
Earlier this month, Jamaica’s health minister warned women to delay plans to become pregnant for the next six to 12 months, too. The island hasn’t even recorded any cases of Zika. Health officials on the tiny Caribbean island say it’s just a matter of time before the virus hits the island.
These are significant precautions, experts say. The World Health Organization told the New York Times that it wouldn’t recommend suspending pregnancies for two years, for example.
“There are many questions that need to be answered before making that recommendation,” Dr. Marcos Espinal, director of communicable diseases for the organization’s regional office, told the newspaper.
“You have to assess the risk in making such a recommendation of how it will impact the birthrate of a country,” he warned.
The WHO says it’s very likely Zika will touch every country in the Americas, except for Canada and continental Chile because the mosquito that carries the disease isn’t found there.
It’s already been found in 14 countries: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.
Cases have popped up in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. Officials are urging pregnant women or women who plan on motherhood in the near future to avoid these affected regions.
Dr. Brett Belchetz looks at the dangers posed by the Zika virus.
© 2016 Shaw Media