Public-health officials in Latin American and Caribbean countries are warning their citizens against pregnancy amid rising fears that the Zika virus, which may be linked to a rise in birth defects, is spreading through the region.
The worry about Zika comes from a suggested link between the virus and microcephaly, a birth defect where babies are born with smaller-than-normal heads and incomplete brain development. While it has not been proven that Zika causes microcephaly, the CDC found the virus in the tissue of four Brazilian infants with the birth defect.
Zika is mosquito-borne and historically found in Southeast Asia and Africa. The first case in Brazil was reported in May 2015, and the virus has since spread around the region. Health officials in Brazil saw 20 times more cases of microcephaly in 2015 compared to 2014.
Countries across the affected region are coming up with various ways to protect against the virus. In El Salvador, which has seen around 5,000 cases of Zika, officials are urging women not to get pregnant until 2018. Critics of the strategy worry about pregnancies that are unplanned.
Jamaica, Colombia, and Ecuador have also recommended that their citizens delay pregnancy. In Colombia, the suggested delay is currently six to eight months. Colombian officials raised their estimate for suspected cases on Tuesday, saying more than 16,000 people in the country have the virus. More than 1,000 of them are pregnant women, according to the AP.