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Scientists Say Delay Pregnancy in Zika-Affected Areas

Photograph by Twenty20

The World Health Organization says women should delay getting pregnant in zones where Zika virus is being locally transmitted in order to avoid Zika-related pregnancy complications and birth defects known to be associated with the virus.

Currently, there is local transmission—meaning people are getting bitten by mosquitos infected with Zika and contracting the virus that way—in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands (just East of Puerto Rico) and American Samoa (so far west into the Pacific Ocean that it's nearer to Australia than the mainland U.S.). Parts of Texas and Florida are potentially expected to see Zika this summer, due to favorable conditions for the mosquito that carries the virus.

While this really sucks, according to infectious disease experts, since there's no vaccine to prevent the virus, and traditional mosquito abatement methods fail to reduce the Aedes aegypti species of mosquito, the safest way to avoid the severe health consequences of Zika on babies is to delay pregnancy.

According to the New York Times, Puerto Rico's health secretary Dr. Ana Ríus-Armendáriz, as well as the governments of other countries, including Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, El Salvador and Jamaica, have already recommended similar health advisories urging women to delay pregnancy to avoid Zika-related birth defects.

The New York Times wrote that the CDC has "decided against this approach on the grounds that government doctors should not intrude on personal decisions best made by women and their partners." But the CDC does want to make sure that doctors and nurses in the U.S. are educating people about the risks of Zika, teaching prevention and provide information about appropriate and effective contraceptive options to ensure safety.

To be sure, the WHO advisory doesn't say "don't get pregnant," according to a WHO spokeswoman. But they do want anyone thinking about getting pregnant to be educated about the risks before they make a final decision.

As of May 2016, a dozen studies and reports have been published on the sexual transmission of Zika virus, and sexual transmission has been reported in 10 countries, including the United States.

According to the updated guidance from the WHO, all published cases of sexually transmitted Zika have been from males showing symptoms of infection, and whose sexual activity may have happened before, during or after the onset of coming down with Zika symptoms. The WHO writes that it is still unknown whether women or men who aren't showing symptoms of the virus can still transmit the virus through sexual contact. The organization said it is also still unknown how long the virus can remain present in a man's semen after the onset of symptoms.

The advisory published by the WHO lists microcephaly, neurological complications and Guillain-Barré syndrome (a disorder in which the body's immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system) as concerns associated with Zika.

The WHO recommends that "sexual partners of pregnant women, living in or returning from areas where local transmission of Zika virus is known to occur should practice safer sex or abstinence from sexual activity for at least the whole duration of the pregnancy."

And if you or your partner has traveled to a known Zika transmission area and are planning a pregnancy, they recommend waiting at least eight weeks before trying to conceive so you can be sure that any possible Zika infection has been cleared. If the male partner has shown symptoms of Zika after returning, they recommend waiting six months before trying to conceive.

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