The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory for pregnant women against going to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games or to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro because of the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil.
The Brazilian outbreak has been especially troubling because of its link to a sharp rise in cases of microcephaly, a birth defect characterized by brain abnormalities and an unusually small head. The illness caused by the Zika virus is usually mild, with symptoms of a rash and fever. There is no definitive proof about its link to pregnancy. CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said at a press briefing,
“We know Zika and microcephaly are associated, although we do not yet have definitive proof that Zika infection alone is the cause of microcephaly. The evidence for this is getting stronger by the day. Today it’s been six weeks to the day from CDC’s first announcement and travel briefing about Zika. For the American public, the bottom line hasn’t changed from the time of our initial announcement. If you’re pregnant, avoid travel to a place where Zika is spreading. If you’re in a place such as Puerto Rico where Zika is spreading, do everything you can to avoid mosquito bites. The most severe risk is to pregnant women.”
Puerto Rico has roughly half the total for the United States and its territories, with 117 known diagnosed cases reported.
Women who stay home are at risk too if their partner travels to any place where mosquitoes are spreading the Zika virus, due to the growing evidence that the virus can be sexually transmitted. The advisory says that they should either use condoms every time they have intercourse or abstain from intercourse until they deliver.
CDC had reported 14 suspected cases of sexual transmission of the virus in the United States on Tuesday. Men who had traveled to places where Zika is spreading were believed to have infected their female partners, not travelling with them, in each case.
In the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, or MMWR, CDC researchers reported, that two of the 14 cases had been confirmed with laboratory testing and four were “probable” cases. Sexual transmission of Zika was ruled out in two of the 14 suspected cases, while the remaining six are still under investigation.
Medical epidemiologist Dr. Paul Mead, one of the authors of the MMWR report, said at the press briefing.
“We’re not releasing details of pregnancy status, age, state of residence of these patients out of respect for patient privacy and confidentiality,”
CDC scientists also stated about nine pregnant U.S. women with confirmed Zika infections in a separate MMWR report Friday. All of the women had traveled to at least one place with ongoing spread of the Zika virus, including Brazil as well as American Samoa, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Samoa.
Dr. Denise Jamieson, an obstetrician who works as a CDC medical officer, said at the press briefing that to better understand the effects of Zika virus on pregnant women and their children, CDC has established a pregnancy registry. She said,
“Microcephaly does occur for lots of different reasons. But we did not expect to see these brain abnormalities in this small case series of U.S. pregnant travelers. Even though the numbers are small, they are of considerable interest. We understand that the occurrence of fetal malformation, fetal loss or a child with a birth defect is something that can be devastating to a family. That’s why we’re working so hard to understand more what’s happening and how it can be prevented.”
Late on Friday, the Federal Drug Administration issued an emergency authorization for a new CDC laboratory test for the Zika virus that detects antibodies the body makes to fight infection. The CDC said it will distribute the test to qualified laboratories in the United States during the next two weeks, reports Reuters
Many international athletes have said recently they are concerned about Zika, though few have said it would stop them from competing. Hope Solo, the famous U.S. soccer goalkeeper, is among them who stated that she may not join her teammates in Brazil due to Zika concerns.
Earlier this month, Australia’s Olympic team said it had signed a sponsorships deal with a repellent maker to supply its athletes with the deterrent, reports The Guardian.
The CDC’s recommendations for travel to the Olympics are concurrent with its current guidance to travelers considering a trip to the myriad countries with Zika presence. Organizers however have pointed that transmission risks should be low during the Olympics, scheduled during winter months in Brazil when is less frequent and the weather is cooler and drier. Rio de Janeiro has pledged to undertake broad mosquito control efforts.
[Photo by Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg via Getty Images]