Zika travel warning to pregnant women

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The World Health Organisation has strengthened its advice to pregnant women to not travel to areas hit by the Zika virus. 

WHO previously said that pregnant women should take precautions against mosquito bites if travelling to areas affected by the virus.

The strengthened advice was issued after the second meeting of WHO’s emergency committee on 8 March, convened under the International Health Regulations. Stronger evidence of a link between the virus and birth abnormalities has come to light.

WHO director general Margaret Chan told a press conference after the meeting that the virus had been detected in amniotic fluid and had been shown to cross the placental barrier and infect the foetus. Microcephaly (a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development and abnormal smallness of the head) is now just one of several documented birth abnormalities associated with Zika infection during pregnancy.

Ms Chan said that these abnormalities can lead to foetal death, growth retardation,placental insufficiency, and injury to the central nervous system. 

David Heymann, chair of the emergency committee, said that the advice to avoid travel if pregnant did not apply to whole countries, but to those areas of “ongoing Zika outbreaks”.

Transmission of the virus locally has been reported in 31 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, while an increase in the number of microcephaly cases has been reported in Brazil and French Polynesia. Nine countries have reported an increase in the number of cases of Guillain Barré syndrome, a rare and serious condition of the peripheral nervous system.

Chan also called for more money to help with efforts to respond to the virus. “Financing of the work is important,” she said.