Health officials in El Salvador have advised women to delay pregnancy until 2018 amid fears that the spreading Zika virus causes birth defects in newborns.
The mosquito-borne virus is suspected to cause a rare brain defect in babies, known as microcephaly, which causes abnormally small heads, leading to severe developmental issues, brain damage and sometimes death.
Speaking Thursday, El Salvador’s vice minister for public health, Eduardo Espinoza, warned women from the central American country to avoid having babies for the next two years to avoid passing on potential negative effects of the Zika virus.
"We'd like to suggest to all the women of fertile age that they take steps to plan their pregnancies, and avoid getting pregnant between this year and next," he said.
The government decided to make the announcement after 5,397 cases of the Zika virus were detected in El Salvador in 2015 and the first few days of this year, according to Espinoza.
Official figures show that 96 women are suspected of having the virus, but so far no babies have been born with microcephaly on El Salvadorean soil.
Although there is no concrete evidence the virus is culpable for microcephaly in babies, the Fiocruz biomedical center in Curitiba, Brazil, announced Tuesday it had found Zika in the placenta of a woman who had a miscarriage, proving the virus can reach the fetus.
"This is a significant advance, but we still cannot scientifically state that Zika is the cause of microcephaly," said Jean Peron, an immunology expert at the University of Sao Paulo's Institute of Biomedical Sciences.
teleSUR reported Wednesday that Brazil’s Ministry of Health revised its figures of microcephaly in newborns to 3,893 since authorities began investigating the surge in October. Previous estimates said there were 3,500 recorded microcephaly cases.
While last week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control warned pregnant women to avoid travel to 14 countries and territories in the Caribbean and Latin America due to the spread of virus Friday.
"Out of an abundance of caution, pregnant women (are) advised to consider postponing travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing," the CDC said.
The level-two travel alert applies to Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.
In Colombia, which has the second-highest Zika infection rate after Brazil, the government warned women from getting pregnant, but only for six to eight months.
The fever as of yet has no cure and is contracted through the Aedes aegypti mosquito which is also known to carry the dengue, yellow fever and Chikungunya viruses.
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