The World Health Organization is strongly suggesting those who live in countries that have been infected by the Zika virus through an infected mosquito to consider delaying pregnancy to avoid having a baby with brain damage or other birth defects.
According to data from the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control, And CNN there are at least 50 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where the virus is currently circulating. In the United States, local transmission via mosquito has been reported only in U.S. territories, not on the mainland.
“Men and women of reproductive age living in affected areas should be informed and orientated to consider delaying pregnancy,” the WHO said in Thursday’s guidance.
Last week, the WHO revised its guidelines for sex and Zika for anyone returning from travel to an affected country, saying couples should wait a full eight weeks to have unprotected sex or attempt to conceive a baby, even if there are no symptoms of the disease. Past guidance had been for four weeks.
The prior guidance also mentioned delaying pregnancy, but the organization felt that the language was not clear enough and issued a correction.
Men with active or prior Zika-like symptoms such as rash, fever, red eyes and painful joints or muscles should practice safe sex or consider abstaining for at least six months.
Both the WHO and the CDC have said that Zika is definitively linked to the alarming rise in microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with small heads and damaged brains, as well as other birth defects, learning delays, and vision and hearing problems. Zika is also linked to an increase in Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a disorder in which the body’s own immune cells attack the nervous system.