A CDC warning that pregnant women should postpone travel to more than a dozen Latin American or Caribbean countries and Puerto Rico has drawn mixed reactions from public health officials and healthcare providers in Brazil, according to an online Jan.17 New York Times report.
The warning stems from mosquitoes rapidly expanding the reach of the Zika virus, which has been linked to a surge in cases of infants born with brain damage. The CDC advisory applies to 14 Western Hemisphere countries and territories, including Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, according to the report.
In Brazil, health officials were investigating 3,500 cases of microcephaly, in which infants are born with abnormally small heads, according to the Times article written by Simon Romero. The condition has been linked to the Zika virus. Still, Henrique Alves, Brazil’s tourism minister, disputed the CDC warning, saying authorities were adopting measures to prevent Zika from intensifying in the country. Romero asked Alves in a telephone interview if Brazil was a safe destination for pregnant women. “I think so, without a doubt,” Alves said.
However, the Times reported, others in Brazil agreed with the CDC action. “The announcement by the CDC is entirely appropriate, given the risks in Brazil,” Dr. Artur Timerman, 62, an infectious disease specialist in São Paulo, said in the article, adding he had advised his 32-year-old daughter to avoid getting pregnant in Brazil at this time. “If she wants to do so, her best course of action is to leave the country and go to a place where Zika is not a problem.”
The timing is difficult for Brazil, which will host the 2016 Olympic Games in August. Alves said he expected the Zika situation to ease by that point.
However, there is concern that the Olympics could help the virus spread. Some researchers believe Zika, which has origins in Uganda, arrived when Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup, according to the article.
Dr. Isaac I. Bogoch, a tropical infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto who is part of a team modeling the potential for Zika to spread, warned that the Olympics could serve as a catalyst for the virus, which some researchers believe may have arrived in Brazil during another sports mega-event, the 2014 World Cup.
“There will be people traveling to Brazil from all over the world,” Bogoch told Romero in an email. “The concern is that infected individuals will travel back to their home country and introduce the virus to new regions.”
The region also is trying to contain two other mosquito-borne viruses, dengue and chikungunya. The Times reported that last year, Brazil registered more than 1.6 million cases of dengue, a virus causing fever and joint pain, with 863 people dying from the disease.
Other nations also are plunging ahead with measures to control mosquitoes and disease. Colombia is releasing swarms of mosquitoes treated with a virus to limit their disease-spreading capacity and Mexico is testing the first dengue vaccine.
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