By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a level 2 travel alert for pregnant women in or going to countries where there have been reports of the Zika virus, including Brazil and thirteen other Latin American countries.
“Until more is known, and out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant,” said the alert issued on Friday.
According to U.S. officials pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Women trying to become pregnant who are thinking about becoming pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider before traveling to these areas.
The alert comes after reports in Brazil linking microcephaly in newborns to mothers who were infected by the Zika virus while pregnant. The U.S. alert, however, is cautious to state that the relationship between the neurological disorder and the Zika virus, transmitted by the mosquito that also transmits dengue fever, has not been definitely established. “More studies are planned to learn more about the risks of Zika virus infection during pregnancy,” notes the alert.
Nonetheless, the U.S. health center urges all travelers to protect themselves against mosquito bites, by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, using insect repellents and sleeping in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms. Travelers, however, may find it difficult to wear long-sleeved shirts in Brazil during this time of year, when temperatures reach over 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) in Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil’s Minister of Health, Marcelo Castro, announced yesterday (January 15th) test kits for quick detection of Zika virus, chikungunya and dengue fever will be distributed to laboratories across the country in February.
“We will probably distribute now in February. With this kit, the person can test their blood and will know immediately if they are with dengue, chikungunya or Zika,” the minister said after a visit to the Instituto Butantan, in São Paulo. The three diseases are transmitted by the mosquito Aedes aegypti.
“We will distribute the tests that are required for this diagnosis to be made. There are plenty of resources in the Ministry of Health to combat microcephaly,” he said, referring to the malformation, which is related to the occurrence of Zika virus in pregnant women.
Still the alert comes at a difficult time for Brazil, already struggling with an onslaught of negative political and economic news, and especially Rio de Janeiro which counts on an influx of tourism for the annual Carnival, and this year, the Olympic Games.
British expatriate living in Rio, Philip Wilkinson, and spokesman for the Rio 2016 organizing committee, told The New York Times that Olympic venues “will be inspected on daily basis during the Rio 2016 Games to ensure there are no puddles of stagnant water and therefore minimize the risk of coming into contact with mosquitos.”
Paula Sant’Anna, a Carioca (from Rio) who works as a freelance Portuguese-language teacher admitted, “I do worry about the large number of microcephaly cases and the possibility of more bad side effects besides these that we don’t even know yet.”
Brazil’s Health Ministry announced in early January that more than three thousand cases of microcephaly had been reported in the country in 2015 and that some of these cases could be linked to the Zika virus. Currently there is no vaccine to prevent and no medicine to treat a Zika virus infection.