The virus may be linked to an increase in microcephaly cases. (Photo: Stocksy)
Health officials in El Salvador are urging women to wait until 2018 to get pregnant due to the growing link between Zika virus and birth defects.
Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease, has been linked to severe brain damage in newborns after nearly 4,000 babies were born in Brazil in the past year with unusually small heads (an incurable condition known as microcephaly). The disease is spreading throughout the Americas and the Caribbean, and officials in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Jamaica have also urged women to hold off on having children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel warning on Jan. 22, urging pregnant women and those who are trying to become pregnant to consider postponing any planned trips to regions affected by the virus.
“Knowledge of the link between Zika and these outcomes is evolving, but until more is known, CDC recommends special precautions,” the alert says.
But is the disease expected to go away in two years? Not exactly, board-certified infectious disease specialist Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, tells Yahoo Health.
“Two years is kind of arbitrary,” he says. “We don’t really know what time period is necessary, but two years would give the country time to get control in terms of mosquitos.”
Adalja points out that Zika “hasn’t been proven beyond a level of reasonable doubt” to be causing the increase in microcephaly cases, but says experts will know more within two years. “You would hope we would establish how common this is and if there are other cofactors like nutrition,” he says, adding that two years should give the government enough time to target the Aedes mosquito population, which carries Zika virus, and create a public education campaign.
What Is the Zika Virus?
Both the U.S. and Brazil have committed to developing a vaccine against Zika and Adalja expect things will have moved along within two years. He points out that two years also gives women more time to get infected while they’re not pregnant, which can end up protecting them and their babies when they actually are pregnant.
However, it can be difficult for people to even know if they have or have had the virus. “Eighty percent of people don’t know that they have the virus,” Adalja says. The other 20 percent may experience fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis.
While concern is currently focused on the Americas and the Caribbean, Zika can travel north to the U.S.
“Chikungunya and Dengue fever are the best models we have, and both have established themselves in certain parts of the U.S. — Florida, Texas, and Hawaii,” says Adalja. “All it takes is for a traveler from areas where Zika is endemic to come back to the U.S. and be bitten by the right mosquito at the right time.”
A vaccine may be on the horizon, but Adalja expects that we’ll be hearing about Zika virus for a while to come: “There’s no indication that it will go away in the next two years.”
More on the Zika virus on Yahoo Health:
- Zika Virus Symptoms: What Are They?
- Do Pregnant Women in the U.S. Need to Worry About Zika Virus?
- What to Know About the Zika Virus If You’re Trying to Get Pregnant
- 10 Essential Facts About the Zika Virus
- U.S. Issues Treatment Guidelines for Infants Exposed to Zika