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El Salvador Urges Women Not To Get Pregnant Till 2018 To Combat Spread Of Zika Virus

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El Salvador has urged its citizens to hold off on getting pregnant for two years, fearing newborns could contract the growth-stunting virus that has been plaguing the region over the last few months.

Until last year, Zika virus hadn't been detected in the Americas. The mosquito-borne virus was first documented in Africa in 1947.

The newly landed virus has been ravaging countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. With more than a million reported cases, Brazil has been hit hardest by the virus.

Close to 4,000 of Brazil's reported cases of Zika virus included the development of microcephaly in babies. Microcephaly is a condition that stunts the growth of the head, hindering the development of the brain as a result.

In El Salvador, the number of Zika virus cases reported was just south of 5,400 near the start of the new year. Ninety-six pregnant women in the Central American country are believed to have contracted the virus, though there haven't been any confirmed cases of microcephaly.

Despite the absence of evidence of microcephaly in the country, El Salvador has called for the boldest measure of any of the embattled countries. While Columbia and other countries have called for a stay on pregnancies for about six months or so, El Salvador has urged prospective moms to hold off until 2018 before trying for offspring.

"If we don't make any recommendations to the population, we could have a high incidence of microcephaly," said Eduardo Antonio Espinoza Fiallos, the vice minister of health. "Of those children, 99 percent will survive, but with limitations in their mental faculties."

El Salvador's call for planned pregnancies could be at odds with the country's religious population, which is predominantly Catholic.

Morality mandates that people shouldn't have that degree of control over procreation, stated Hector Figueroa, a priest in charge of health issues in the San Salvador archdiocese.

"But the church also isn't going to say something that runs contrary to life and health," said Figueroa. "This is a very delicate issue."

The presence of the Zika virus has been reported in Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname and Venezuela, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

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