Women who visit a country suffering from the Zika virus should refrain from getting pregnant during the trip and for four weeks after leaving the country, the Health Ministry advised Tuesday.
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The recommendation is based on the assessment that a month is long enough for the woman to be certain she hasn’t contracted the virus, whose incubation period is usually three to 12 days. The virus is suspected of causing microcephaly, in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains, though the causal connection has not yet been proven.
The ministry also for the first time raised the possibility that people could contract Zika even if they aren’t bitten by an infected mosquito, which was previously thought to be the only means of transmission. New but still inconclusive evidence indicates that the virus might also be transmittable through sexual intercourse. “In a few cases, men who contracted the virus infected their partners through intercourse,” the ministry’s statement said. It therefore advised people who visit a country suffering from Zika “to use a condom while having sexual relations during their stay there, and also for four weeks after leaving the danger zone.” People should refrain from donating blood for 28 days after leaving a country with Zika. But once that period is over, donating is fine, it said.
The new recommendations come on top of earlier recommendations by the ministry which advised pregnant women and women planning to get pregnant in the near future to consider postponing planned trips to any country suffering from Zika. The ministry also advised anyone traveling to such a country to take precautions to prevent mosquito bites, including by putting on mosquito repellent, wearing long clothing and a hat, and sleeping in rooms that are screened, air-conditioned or sprayed with repellent, or else under a mosquito net sprayed with repellent.
The ministry’s latest statement added that it is currently consulting with various professionals to draft recommendations for pregnant women who spent time in a country with Zika during their pregnancies, as well for any babies they have had since returning.
The ministry provided a list of countries defined as risk zones, broken down by region as follows: In the Americas: Brazil, Venezuela, Panama, Honduras, Colombia, El Salvador, Surinam, Guatemala, Paraguay, Mexico, Martinique, French Guiana, Puerto Rico and Haiti. In southeastern Asia: Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand. In the Pacific Ocean: Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, the Cook Islands, eastern Micronesia and French Polynesia. In Africa: Cape Verde, Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda.
On Monday, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency over Zika. It said there are weighty suspicions that Zika indeed causes microcephaly, noting that the virus was found in the brains of five of 49 babies who died of microcephaly recently. There is currently no treatment for Zika, and the WHO said it will take more than a year to develop a vaccine.