June 9, 2016
WHO Advises People Living In Zika Virus-Affected Regions To Avoid Pregnancy

The World Health Organization (WHO), in an "interim guidance update" issued on the prevention of sexual transmission of the Zika Virus, has advised people living in the Zika virus-affected regions to consider delaying pregnancy as a precautionary measure to ensure they do not have babies with birth defects.

According to the New York Times, the guidance update issued on June 7 addresses millions of people living in 46 countries across the Americas that have been affected by, or are under the threat of being affected by the Zika virus. The latest guidance update is an addition to a similar advisory that was published earlier this year on February 18. According to WHO, the update was necessary after it became evident that the incidents of sexual transmission of the Zika virus was more common than what was previously thought. The primary method of transmission, however, still is the Aedes mosquito.

An excerpt from the WHO advisory reads as follows.

"In order to prevent adverse pregnancy and fetal outcomes, men and women of reproductive age, living in areas where local transmission of Zika virus is known to occur, be correctly informed and oriented to consider delaying pregnancy; and follow recommendations (including the consistent use of condoms) to prevent human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), other sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancies."
The guidance update also recommends men who are partners of pregnant women living in Zika virus-affected regions to practice safe sex or completely abstain from sexual activity for the entire duration of the pregnancy. It also recommends couples returning from Zika virus-affected areas to wait at least eight weeks before they try to conceive. In case the male shows any symptoms, it suggests to wait at least six months before the couple try for a baby.

Zika virus
A baby affected by the Zika Virus in Bonito, Pernambuco state, Brazil is comforted by his elder brother (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

This is not the first time that an organization has recommended delaying pregnancy in order to prevent newborn babies from being affected by complications caused by the Zika virus. Five countries which fell in the Zika virus-affected region had already issued similar recommendations. In Puerto Rico, the health secretary had previously suggested similar measures. The move was however deemed controversial by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC was of the belief that these recommendations clashed with personal decisions and that it was not the business of the state or any state machinery to intrude on personal decisions.

The WHO recommendation seems to be a sort of last resort measure to bring the Zika virus transmission under control. With no vaccine currently available and efforts to slow down the epidemic showing very little progress, WHO thinks delaying pregnancy is one major way by which women living in affected regions can avoid having children who could be born with severe brain defects.

The recommendations by the WHO will remain in force until November of this year -- unless they update the timeline, in case additional information pertaining to the Zika virus becomes available.

The latest outbreak of Zika virus traces its origin to April, 2015, in Brazil. It slowly spread to several other countries across South and Central America. The WHO has warned that if the epidemic is not controlled and continues spreading at the current rate, the virus could spread to encompass most of the Americas by the end of the year.

Over the past year, an estimated 1.5 million people have been infected by the Zika virus in Brazil alone. The virus has also cast a shadow on the prospects of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The games are set to bring an influx of tourists to the country reeling under the effects of the virus. Authorities are also worried that the tourists could take the Zika virus to their own countries -- leading to a worldwide epidemic.

[AP Photo/Felipe Dana]