The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a travel alert on Friday advising pregnant women to avoid travel to 14 countries in the Americas to avoid the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne virus linked to brain damage in babies.

The Zika virus’ local transmission – meaning mosquitoes in the area have been infected with the virus and are transmitting  it to humans – has been detected in 14 countries and territories. The CDC advisory covers the following countries:

  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • El Salvador
  • French Guiana
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Martinique
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Puerto Rico
  • Suriname
  • Venezuela

In its travel advisory, CDC highlighted the need for an “abundance of caution” among pregnant women and those planning to conceive.

"Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip," the statement noted.

The agency encouraged pregnant women to consult with their doctor before traveling to the cited areas and to prevent mosquito bites during their trip through staying indoors as much as possible, weaning long sleeves, and using insecticides such as DEET.

The CDC said insect repellants containing DEET are safe for pregnant and nursing women and kids older than age 2 when used according to product label.

Zika cropped up in Brazil in May and has since been linked to a rise in cases of microcephaly, a birth defect that leads to underdeveloped heads and brains in children. Prior to this, the Zika virus had not been linked to serious conditions, with three-fourths of people actually not even knowing they acquired it.

Brazilian health authorities recorded over 3,500 microcephaly cases between October and this month.

In a separate advisory for healthcare providers, the CDC said Zika infection should be considered in those showing signs such as acute fever, bumpy red rash, muscle ache, and conjunctivitis, and those who went to Zika-affected areas two weeks before illness.

Health officials remain vigilant. "This is a new situation. This is a dynamic situation. I think we are just going to have to wait until this plays out," said CDC official Dr. Lyle Petersen.

The Zika virus, found in a monkey in the Ugandan Zika forest back in 1947, recently incited an explosion of infections in the Americas, spreading through bites from the same type of mosquitoes spreading tropical illnesses such as dengue and chikungunya.

In the United States, at least 26 have been diagnosed with the virus since 2007, all of which traveled or thought to have caught it abroad. Last month, someone in Puerto Rico who had not traveled was diagnosed with Zika.

In an op-ed, Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, warned that a hotter and more humid Earth is paving the way for these serious virulent infectious conditions “spreading far beyond their previous geographic confines.”

These include diseases such as West Nile, Lyme disease, yellow fever, and malaria.

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