Are you pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant? You might want to change your mind about your "baby moon" destination.
It's all over the news, but just a month ago no one in North America had really heard of it. Yet if you live in South America, chances are you know someone affected by it.
This past week the CDC issued an official travel warning for 17 Latin American countries, including Puerto Rico. This is the first time the CDC has issued a warning for pregnant women to avoid a specific region!
As stated by Dr. Lyle R. Peterson of the CDC,
"We believe this is a fairly serious problem. This virus is spreading throughout the Americas. We didn't feel we could wait."
Why the ban? In less than a year, the number of babies born with microcephaly has skyrocketed in Latin America.
To give you an idea of how rare microcephaly is,
In the past year 3,500 cases of microcephaly in newborns. Until last year, the country normally had about 150 cases each year. According to the Washington Post, at least 46 babies have died who were born with microcephaly that may have been related to Zika.
Mosquito-born illnesses like the Zika virus are transmitted when an adult female mosquito picks up the virus by biting an infected person, and then, once the virus has spread to their salivary glands, they infect another human by biting them.
Only one person in five infected with Zika ever shows symptoms, which include fever, rash, muscle aches and conjunctivitis ("pink eye").
But in pregnancy, especially in the first trimester when major brain development occurs, the consequences of infection can be disastrous.
Microcephaly is a rare birth defect where babies are born with abnormally small heads and brains, often dying in the womb or shortly after birth. Those who survive face major neurologic deficits. In the past we've seen microcephaly with other viruses like Cytomegalovirus and Rubella, which pregnant women are screened for immunity to in our country. It is also a rare genetic defect as well as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome.
A woman infected by a mosquito bite in the first few weeks of pregnancy may not even know she is pregnant yet. That's what makes this so tricky - for most people the virus is self-limited; for pregnant women it can be disastrous.
If you are pregnant or planning to be - check out this list - and STAY TUNED - the CDC will be constantly reviewing and updating the list of countries as needed. As of writing this, countries included in the warning are Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, as well as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
How far it spreads, officials said, will depend on which mosquitos prove adept at transmitting it and how aggressive mosquito control efforts are. The concern is that our Southern states such as Florida can become affected through mosquito travel to the mainland.
The first case in the US was in Hawaii, but it was likely acquired while the patient was living in Brazil. About a dozen US cases have popped up as far north as Illinois, but all affected people have a history of recent travel to Latin American countries.
This is a great example of health agencies NOT being unduly influenced by economics. Lest you forgot, Brazil is set to host the Summer Olympics this year in Rio, and a travel warning like this doesn't make many higher-ups happy.
I say kudos to the Center for Disease Control for evaluating the situation in a timely manner and taking action to protect the public. The CDC is already working out a system for collecting information about confirmed Zika virus cases.
There is no vaccine for Zika, but the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is already working on it. Good thing the disease is closely related to yellow fever, another mosquito-borne illness that we already have a vaccine to!
Brazil, which was the most affected initially, should be lauded for its early action in research. It hasn't even been a year since the first case was detected; the virus has already been found in brain tissue and amniotic fluid from babies who died in the womb or were born with microcephaly through testing.
Affected countries have campaigns going on to decrease standing water, which attracts mosquitoes, as well as educating residents on how to avoid bites in the first place.
Remember, you may not know you have contracted it whether you're pregnant or not. In most individuals the virus is rather safe, causing a viral syndrome less serious than the flu. If you're pregnant, the repercussions could be far more reaching.
Bottom line, if you are even thinking of becoming pregnant and traveling to these areas, consult with your doctor first!