Worried about the spread of a mosquito-borne disease suspected of causing severe birth defects, officials in several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are publicly urging women not to get pregnant.
Authorities in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica have all advised women to delay pregnancies until scientists can learn more about a possible link between the Zika virus and a rare condition known as microcephaly, which causes newborns to be born with shrunken skulls and underdeveloped brains.
After an outbreak in Brazil, Zika has swept across Latin America and the Caribbean. Brazilian authorities say more than 1 million cases have been confirmed, with some 4,000 cases of microcephaly that may be tied to Zika.
Zika is spread by the same mosquito that carries dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya. While it can lead to flu-like symptoms, a fever and a rash, some people show no symptoms at all. Health officials say there is no known cure and Zika is not contagious.
Last week, officials in Colombia, which shares a border with Brazil, reported more than 13,000 cases of Zika and warned women to avoid getting pregnant for the next 6 months.
“It’s a new and emerging phenomena, and we still don’t know all the potential consequences,” Colombia Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria said, explaining his decision.
The Colombian government also warned pregnant women from traveling from some mountainous regions because of the potentially high risk of contracting the virus.
Health officials in El Salvador are calling for even more serious precautions. Deputy Health Minister Eduardo Espinoza urged women to refrain from getting pregnant until 2018.
“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,” Espinoza said, according to Reuters.
Although there have been no reported cases in Jamaica, officials there have also called on women to hold off on planning a pregnancy, saying the virus’ presence in Haiti means it’s only a matter of time before it extends to Jamaica.
On Monday, the World Health Organization said Zika was likely to continue to spread to most countries throughout the Americas.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently advised pregnant women to avoid travel to Brazil and 19 other Latin American and Caribbean countries. The travel warnings could particularly impact Brazil, which is hosting the Olympic Games in August.
Some scientists in the regions have reportedly begun to experiment with possibly releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in an effort to potentially disrupt the mosquitoes that transmit the virus.