CARIBBEAN 360 – Couples who have been infected with the Zika virus, or may have been exposed to the disease, should wait several months before attempting to conceive a child, according to new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Women who are diagnosed with the virus, or who experience symptoms of the disease after possible exposure, should wait at least eight weeks after the onset of symptoms before trying to become pregnant, the CDC said.
The recommended wait for men is much longer: Those who have been infected with Zika or who have symptoms of it should wait at least six months before attempting to conceive a child, according to the agency.
Men and women who do not develop symptoms of Zika, but could have been exposed to the virus by mosquito bites or through sexual activity, should wait at least eight weeks before attempting to conceive a child, the agency said.
To arrive at the new recommendations, the CDC took the longest known period that the virus can persist in blood and semen, and then tripled this period, according to Dr Denise Jamieson of the CDC’s Zika Virus Response Team.
Although Zika often causes mild or no symptoms at all, health officials are concerned about the growing link between Zika during pregnancy and a birth defect called microcephaly, which causes abnormally small heads in babies.
“Mounting evidence supports a link between Zika and microcephaly…and possibly other problems such as miscarriage and stillbirth,” Jamieson told reporters.
Exactly how often the virus is linked with pregnancy complications is still being studied, Jamieson added.
Zika is currently spreading in 39 countries in the Caribbean and Central and South America.
While it is reportedly not spreading in the United States, it is being transmitted in US territories, including Puerto Rico, which has reported more than 260 cases of Zika virus, according to the CDC.
The agency said that people who live in the affected areas should be counselled about how to prevent Zika infection and the risks of infection, and that “some women and their partners residing in areas with active Zika virus transmission may decide to delay pregnancy.”
Decisions regarding when to have children are complex, and pregnancy always comes with risks, Jamieson said, adding: “Unfortunately, Zika adds one more potential risk.”
The CDC wants to “provide the best evidence about risks so that women and their partners can make informed decisions” about pregnancy planning, she noted.
In earlier guidelines, the CDC recommended that men who have a pregnant partner and have travelled to areas where Zika is spreading should use condoms or abstain from sex for their partner’s entire pregnancy.
While this recommendation remains unchanged, the agency also issued new recommendations to prevent the sexual transmission of the virus among couples who aren’t pregnant.
The agency recommends that couples in which the man has been infected with Zika or has symptoms of the virus should use condoms or abstain from sex for at least six months after the start of symptoms.
If a man has travelled to an area where the Zika virus is spreading, but did not develop symptoms, he should still use condoms or abstain from sex for at least eight weeks after his return. Only 1 in 5 people infected with Zika show symptoms, the agency has previously noted.
Couples who live in areas where Zika virus is spreading, but have not developed symptoms, should consider using condoms or abstaining from sex while there is an active Zika transmission, the agency said.
Some countries where Zika has spread have suggested that their women should postpone pregnancies. El Salvador, for example, has recommended that women do not become pregnant until 2018.