GENEVA - The World Health Organization (WHO) is advising couples or women living or returning from Zika-infected areas to wait at least eight weeks before trying to conceive.
The WHO’s revised guidelines reflect greater concern that the sexual transmission of the Zika virus could harm the pregnancy. The world body’s recommendations are based on new evidence showing the Zika virus is staying in the blood and other bodily fluids longer than previously thought.
WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said the organization is advising couples to delay pregnancy to make sure any possible Zika infection has cleared.
“This is why we are upping the guidance for asymptomatic people from four to eight weeks exactly and for symptomatic people and those who plan pregnancy for six months…. The guidance is to delay or to consider delaying pregnancy, certainly recognizing that this may be tough for some populations indeed,” said Lindmeier.
Zika is linked to microcephaly, a brain disorder which causes babies to be born with unusually small heads. The virus currently is circulating in 60 countries. Latin America is the most seriously affected region. Cape Verde is the first African country with several confirmed cases.
The Zika virus is mainly transmitted via the Aedes mosquito; but, since Zika also can be sexually transmitted, the WHO is advising couples to delay having a child if they might have been exposed to the virus. Lindmeier said that is to prevent an adverse pregnancy or harm to the fetus.
“If the male partner of the couple planning pregnancy develops Zika symptoms — and we are now talking about symptomatic people — the period of safer sex or sex abstinence should be extended to six months. This is the time [needed] to ensure that the infection has left the body and the virus will not be passed on to the fetus or partner,” he said.
Lindmeier added a similar recommendation is being issued for couples planning a pregnancy whether they live in Zika-infected areas or are or have been traveling to places where the virus is circulating.