SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The Zika virus outbreak has prompted a travel alert urging pregnant women to postpone travel to 14 countries in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
The Centers for Disease Control issued a Level 2 health advisory on Friday. Pregnant women should avoid visiting places where transmission of the Zika virus is ongoing. The specific countries are: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Travelers who do visit these areas should practice ‘enhanced precautions’ which include:
- Avoid mosquito bites
- Wear long sleeves and pants, and use insect repellent
- Use airconditioning and screens on doors and windows while indoors.
Zika virus infection during pregnancy can result in fetal loss, and infants born with abnormally small heads and undeveloped brains (microcephaly). Infected patients experience symptoms that include fever, rash, arthralgia or conjunctivitis.
According to the CDC, the Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. About one in five infected people become ill. There is no vaccine, preventive drug, commercial test, or treatment for the disease.
Health officials in the United States and Canada have reported a number of Zika-infected travelers returning from countries grappling with the virus. The Public Health Agency of Canada has issued a similar warning to pregnant women.
The travel warning comes just months in advance of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil, where there has been a significant number of babies born with birth defects after their mothers were exposed to the Zika virus.
More than a half million people are expected to attend the Olympics in August. Brazilian health officials say pregnant women should consult with their doctors before visiting. Meantime, city officials across the country are working with local hospitals and distributing flyers to inform the public about mosquito abatement. So far, the focus has been cities northeast Brazil, where most of the Zika-related infections and birth defects are concentrated.
CBSSF.com writer, producer Jan Mabry is also executive producer and host of The Bronze Report. She lives in Northern California. Follow her on Twitter @janmabr.