WHO advises pregnant women not to travel to Zika oubreak areas

March 9, 2016 4:13 am
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World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan gestures during a press conference on March 8, 2016 in Geneva, after a second emergency committee on Zika virus outbreak/AFP
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan gestures during a press conference on March 8, 2016 in Geneva, after a second emergency committee on Zika virus outbreak/AFP

, GENEVA, Switzerland, Mar 9 – The World Health Organization on Tuesday advised pregnant women not to travel to areas affected by the Zika virus outbreak, saying the new advice was issued amid mounting evidence that Zika can cause birth defects.

“Pregnant women should be advised not travel to areas of ongoing Zika virus outbreaks,” the UN agency said in a statement released after an emergency committee meeting on the rapid spread of the mosquito-borne virus.

Overview
  • "Pregnant women should be advised not travel to areas of ongoing Zika virus outbreaks," the UN agency said in a statement released after an emergency committee meeting on the rapid spread of the mosquito-borne virus.
  • Previous WHO guidelines issued after the first Zika emergency committee meeting on February 1 called for women to be warned of the risk of travel.

Previous WHO guidelines issued after the first Zika emergency committee meeting on February 1 called for women to be warned of the risk of travel.

WHO chief Margaret Chan noted that link between Zika and microcephaly, a severe deformation of the brain among newborns, has not yet been definitively proven.

But, she said, “we do not have to wait until we have definitive proof” before advising pregnant women against travel.

“Microcephaly is now only one of several documented birth abnormalities associated with Zika infection during pregnancy,” she said.

“Grave outcomes include foetal death, placental insufficiency, foetal growth retardation, and injury to the central nervous system,” she added.

Despite the new travel guidelines for pregnant women, WHO said “there should be no general restrictions on travel or trade with countries (or) areas…with Zika virus transmission.”

Chan described the latest research on Zika as “alarming,” including growing evidence that the virus triggers the severe neurological disorder Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which can cause paralysis or death in extreme cases.

Nine countries have reported rising incidents of GBS with a strongly suspected link to Zika.

Two countries have registered a spike in microcephaly with a presumed connection to Zika, French Polynesia and Brazil, the hardest-hit country in the outbreak by far.

But Chan warned that incidents of microcephaly could spread, including possibly to Colombia, where “intense surveillance for foetal abnormalities is currently under way.”

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