CDC Adds More Countries to Zika Travel Alert

Disclosures

January 22, 2016

Editor's note: On January 26, the CDC added two locations to the Zika travel alert, the US Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced today that it has added eight more countries and territories — some outside the Americas — to the list that pregnant women should avoid on account of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is strongly suspected of causing microcephaly.

In addition, the agency is conducting research with hard-hit Brazil into a possible link between the virus and Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), which has been reported in patients with probable Zika infections.

Last week, the CDC advised pregnant women to consider postponing trips to 14 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean where mosquitos have spread the Zika virus. It also suggested that women trying to become pregnant should first consult their physician before traveling to those areas, and if they do, to apply insect repellent and take other measures to avoid mosquito bites. These 14 countries and territories are Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Of the eight countries and territories added to the list of Zika hot spots, six are in the Caribbean and South America: Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, and Guyana. The two others, Cape Verde and Samoa, break the geographic pattern. Cape Verde is off the coast of Africa while Samoa is in Polynesia.

Some Countries Tell Women to Postpone Pregnancy

Public health authorities in the United States are reporting an increasing number of pregnant women who have come down with Zika during trips to regions covered by the CDC travel alert. The first case of a woman giving birth to a baby with microcephaly in the United States after becoming infected in the Zika zone occurred recently in Hawaii.

Brazil has counted a surge of almost 4000 cases of microcephaly in new-borns since October 2015. The abnormally small heads of these babies often are accompanied by incomplete brain development, which can lead to a lifetime of health problems, according to the CDC. In severe cases, newborns do not survive for long. Faced with these risks, Colombia and El Salvador have urged women to delay becoming pregnant — in the case of El Salvador, until 2018.

The CDC advised clinicians earlier this week to ask all pregnant women about recent travel to areas of Zika virus transmission. Women who have made such trips and develop Zika symptoms — fever, rash, muscle aches, and conjunctivitis — during or within 2 weeks of their travel should be tested for the virus. Clinicians should report positive tests to the appropriate local or state health department. In addition, they should schedule regular ultrasounds to monitor fetal growth in Zika-positive pregnant women.

For adults, a Zika infection is generally a mild illness. Only one in five individuals who catch the virus develops symptoms, which usually disappear within a week.

However, the Washington Post reported yesterday that the CDC recently dispatched a four-member team to Brazil to help determine if there is an association between the Zika virus and GBS, a rare disorder that can result in paralysis and death. GBS cases have been on the rise in Brazil. The CDC team includes a neuroepidemiologist and a medical epidemiologist. The agency confirmed the Washington Post story with Medscape Medical News.

More information on today's update to the CDC travel alert is available on the agency's website.

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