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The WHO advises couples living in Zika-infected areas to delay pregnancy

New guidance clarifies language released last week

CNN —  

If you and your partner live where in a country where the Zika virus is actively spreading via the bite of an infected mosquito, the World Health Organization wants you to consider delaying pregnancy to avoid having a baby with brain damage or other birth defects.

According to data from the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control, CNN counts at least 50 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean where the virus is currently circulating. In the United States, local transmission via mosquito has been reported only in U.S. territories, not on the mainland.

There have been at least 11 sexually transmitted cases of the virus in the U.S., but all are linked to people who have visited one of the affected countries.

The WHO advisory falls in line with recommendations from the Puerto Rico secretary of health, Dr. Ana Ríus-Armendáriz, and the governments of Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and Jamaica. It appears to encourage health care providers in all affected countries to follow suit.

“Men and women of reproductive age living in affected areas should be informed and orientated to consider delaying pregnancy,” the WHO said in Thursday’s guidance.

However, the CDC has not issued such language, saying instead that delaying pregnancy should be a decision made between a couple and their health care provider.

Last week, the WHO revised its guidelines for sex and Zika for anyone returning from travel to an affected country, saying couples should wait a full eight weeks to have unprotected sex or attempt to conceive a baby, even if there are no symptoms of the disease. Past guidance had been for four weeks.

The prior guidance also mentioned delaying pregnancy, but the organization felt that the language was not clear enough and issued a correction.

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    Men with active or prior Zika-like symptoms such as rash, fever, red eyes and painful joints or muscles should practice safe sex or consider abstaining for at least six months.

    Both the WHO and the CDC have said that Zika is definitively linked to the alarming rise in microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with small heads and damaged brains, as well as other birth defects, learning delays, and vision and hearing problems. Zika is also linked to an increase in Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a disorder in which the body’s own immune cells attack the nervous system.