Since the most vulnerable people to the new Zika virus are pregnant women, health officials may warn them against traveling to countries with known cases of the disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that certain birth defects like microcephaly may be linked to the mosquito-borne illness.

Though the warning may be the first time that the CDC is advising pregnant women to avoid specific regions during an outbreak, infectious specialists say that the warning is warranted. The warning may take a toll on tourism and travel.

In light of the outbreak and the United States' first case of the disease, the agency may issue the final warning in the next couple of days. In its latest update, it released [PDF] a report on the possible link between Zika virus and birth defects with a warning for pregnant women to take caution when traveling to outbreak hot spots.

Zika virus disease is a mosquito-borne illness caused by a virus transmitted through a vector of Aedes mosquitoes. Though most people infected recover in matter of days or weeks, pregnant women are susceptible to detrimental effects.

Recent evidence shows that pregnant women, especially on their first trimester, are more likely to have children with small heads, damaged brains and neurological problems, called microcephaly.

Zika virus is a relatively new mosquito-borne disease first reported in Brazil in May 2015 and has spread to neighboring Latin American countries since then. Estimates of 440,000 to 1.3 million people have been infected by the virus.

In Brazil, during the outbreak, a sudden increase of babies born with microcephaly was reported. More than 2,700 babies were born with birth defects and neurological issues from the expected 147 recorded in 2014. That is around 10 times higher than what the country sees each year. Health experts are still investigating the association between the virus and birth defects.

Since there is still no vaccine available for Zika virus, prevention is needed to avert infection. CDC recommends using insect repellants, protective clothing and using screen windows to prevent mosquitoes from coming inside houses and establishments. 

Photo: John Tann | Flickr 

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