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Pregnant women advised to give Rio a miss

February 27, 2016

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women to avoid traveling to the Olympics and Paralympics in Brazil because of the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects.

Brasilien, Olympische Spiele 2016 Symbolbild
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

In new guidance issued Friday night, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cautioned pregnant women to stay away from the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in August and Paralympic Games in September. The agency advised their male sexual partners to use condoms after the trip or abstain from sex during the pregnancy.

Women who are trying to become pregnant should talk to their doctors before making the trip, the CDC advised.

Brazil is one of thirty places for which the CDC has issued a travel alert. It recommends that pregnant women postpone trips to those areas. The destinations include American Samoa, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Samoa.

The UN's health agency the World Health Organization issued a situation report on the Zika virus on Friday. It said that a total of 52 countries and territories have reported local transmission of Zika virus between January 2007 and February 2016.

Brasilien Zika Virus - Mikrozephalie - Mutter mit Baby
A mother cares for her baby who has microcephaly.Image: Reuters/U. Marcelino

While not yet scientifically proven, it's suspected that pregnant women infected with the Zika virus are giving birth to babies afflicted with microcephaly - that is, babies with unusually small heads who may suffer brain damage as a result.

So far an increase in microcephaly cases and other neonatal malformations has only been reported in Brazil and French Polynesia. Two cases linked to a stay in Brazil were detected in two other countries.

Zika virus cases in US

The CDC also reported that since August it had tested 257 pregnant women for the Zika virus. Eight were positive and a state laboratory confirmed a ninth. Three of the women have delivered babies: two are apparently healthy, one was born with microcephaly. Two women had miscarriages, although it is not known if the cause was the virus. Two women had abortions, one after scans showed the fetus had an undeveloped brain. Two pregnancies are continuing without reported complications.

The CDC said on Friday that it was also investigating ten additional reports of pregnant travelers who had been infected with the Zika virus.

The Zika virus is spread mainly by mosquito bites and causes mild illness or no symptoms in most people. But in Brazil, officials are investigating a possible link to babies born with unusually small heads, a rare birth defect called microcephaly that can signal underlying brain damage.

Athlete concerns

A growing number of athletes have expressed concern about going to Brazil for the Olympics. US soccer player Hope Solo said Thursday she was unlikely to join her teammates for the Rio Olympic Games without more information about the virus. "Until I know more, I don't feel like I can make a really informative decision... If things stood as they are right now, I probably would not go," she said in an interview on CBS' "This Morning" program.

jm/jr (AP, Reuters)

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