El Salvador has urged women to avoid getting pregnant until 2018 to avoid their children developing birth defects from the mosquito-borne Zika virus which has rampaged through the Americas.
The Zika virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also known to carry the dengue, yellow fever and Chikungunya viruses. Health experts are unsure why the virus, which was first detected in Africa in 1947 but unknown in the Americas until last year, is spreading so rapidly in Brazil and neighboring countries.
Reuters said that although research is still underway, significant evidence in Brazil has suggested a link between Zika infections and rising cases of microcephaly, a neurological disorder in which infants are born with smaller craniums and brains.
On Thursday, El Salvador’s Deputy Health Minister, Eduardo Espinoza, said 5,397 cases of the Zika virus had been detected in the country in 2015 and the first few days of this year.
“We’d like to suggest to all the women of fertile age that they take steps to plan their pregnancies, and avoid getting pregnant between this year and next,” he said.
Official figures show 96 pregnant women are suspected of having contracted the virus, but so far none have had babies born with microcephaly.
In Colombia, which has the second-highest Zika infection rate after Brazil, the government is also advising women to delay becoming pregnant, but only for six to eight months.
Meanwhile, in Brazil it was reported that the number of babies born with suspected microcephaly or abnormally small heads since October has now reached nearly 4,000. In the worst affected area, about one per cent of newborns have suspected microcephaly.
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