“In consideration of the phase in which the epidemic [of the Zika virus] and the existing risk, it is recommended to all couples living in the country not to get pregnant during this time, until the month of July 2016.”
This is what the Colombian health authorities advised on Tuesday, in a notice signed by the Minister of Health and Social Protection, Alejandro Gaviria.
The nationwide warning was due to the number of cases in neighboring Brazil of the microcephaly condition, a rare brain defect that affects infants suffering from the Zika virus.
A total of 3,893 cases have been reported and five babies have died since authorities began investigating in October, officials of the country’s Ministry of Health confirmed on Wednesday, January 20.
The babies were born with birth defects caused by the virus. One study claims that the Zika crosses the mother’s placenta and affects the fetus.
Microcephaly is a condition that affects head size and growth of the baby, resulting in infections and genetic disorders.
To date, some 224 cases of malformation have been confirmed, although research is ongoing, BBC Mundo reports.
Claudio Maierovich, director of contagious diseases at the Ministry of Health, stressed that the authorities have learnt quickly about microcephaly and the risks it poses, but there are still many unknown aspects.
“With Zika everything is new,” he said, pointing out that the announcement on Wednesday that the discovery of the virus in the placenta of a woman who had an abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy is just one piece of the puzzle.
The Zika virus is transmitted through the bite of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, the carrier of other diseases such as dengue and chikungunya.
The cases of Brazilian babies with possible microcephaly have been reported in 764 cities concentrated in country’s the northeast. The state of Pernambuco is the most affected, with 33 percent of reported cases.
Don’t get pregnant
Although Colombia has not yet reported any confirmed cases that relate Zika to microcephaly, the risk remains high, daily El Espectador reported.
According to Ministry estimates, it is expected that Colombia will develop around 650,000 cases of Zika.
The statement added that “every pregnant woman who does not reside in an area below 2,200 meters above sea level should not travel to these areas because of the high risk of infection, at least until the middle of this year.”
In addition it is expected that, according to Brazilian indexes, the country could see nearly 400 cases of microcephaly identified by the virus and 600 cases of Guillain Barre syndrome, a complication that affects the peripheral nerves and is characterized by causing decreased strength in arms and legs.
Last week, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a statement stating that pregnant women should consider postponing trips to 14 destinations — Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname and Venezuela.