It’s been four years since the Zika virus outbreak had health officials warning pregnant women to stay out of certain regions where the mosquito-borne virus was flourishing, but now health officials around the world are downgrading those warnings.
Stateside, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has eased warnings that previously advised women who were pregnant or trying to conceive to avoid traveling to dozens of countries and regions.
Now, the CDC guidelines simply recommend “pregnant women and couples planning a pregnancy within the next 3 months consult with a health care provider” before traveling to areas where Zika has previously been reported.
Only one region in the world has an active Zika outbreak. The Indian state of Rajasthan has that unfortunate distinction and the CDC recommendations still urge against visiting that area if you’re pregnant or trying. The rest of the world though? That’s your call.
CDC has just updated its #Zika guidance for travellers. Interactive map now colour coded with current Zika outbreak… https://t.co/uMwSDbURmo
— Sarah McGuinness (@drsarahmac)
Zika activity around the globe has calmed considerably in recent years. Brazil, which saw hundreds of thousands of cases of Zika infection in 2016, had more than 2,000 babies who were impacted by “developmental and growth alternations possibly related to Zika virus infection,” including microcephaly, “a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected,” according to the CDC.
I returned to Recife to work on a CBSN documentary about the children and families affected by the Zika outbreak in… https://t.co/kjl628fxwu
— Kate SG (@steikginz)
There is no vaccine for Zika, and while pregnant women can take precautions, like wearing long sleeves and insect repellent to protect from mosquitos and avoiding outdoor activities at dawn and dusk, the easing of the travel advisories does not mean there is zero risk, just that it has been greatly diminished since 2015/2016.
“Where there are those big outbreaks, we’re definitely going to tell you not to go,” Martin Cetron, the director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine said in an interview with the Washington Post. “Where there is a range of possibilities, from no Zika to low-level background Zika, we’re going to tell you there’s been virus there before; it could still be there. If you’re a zero-risk person, don’t go. If you’re not, you decide.”
Some high profile mothers had already been making that call even before the CDC lightened up the guidelines. Last fall the newly pregnant Duchess of Sussex, the former Meghan Markle, traveled to areas previously impacted by Zika, Fiji and Tonga.
There is no word yet on exactly when the WHO will ease its guidelines, and even when it does, pregnant women should still talk to their doctor before traveling internationally.