ATLANTA - It's an unsettling time to be pregnant. With Zika virus now spreading rampantly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is telling expectant mothers and women planning to get pregnant -- to avoid travel to 30 destinations in Latin America, including lots of popular Caribbean islands.
Dr. Hansa Bhargava, a Children's Healthcare of Atlanta pediatrician and medical editor of WebMD says she thinks women planning a family are getting the message.
"But here's the thing,” Dr. Bhargava says. “What we're not talking about are the unplanned pregnancies. And almost half of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Now if a woman travels down there and she gets pregnant while she's there, she may have the same kind of effects in her pregnancy that she didn't know she was going to have."
There is deep concern for pregnant women because Zika virus may linked to a rare, but potentially devastating birth defects. In Brazil alone, about 4,000 babies were born in 2015 with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads. In some cases, the babies have had brain damage and developmental delays. At least 50 babies have died.
All but one of the U.S. Zika cases so far are imported, in travelers returning from Zika-affected areas.
In Dallas, there has been one confirmed case of sexual transmission of the virus, in a man returning from Venezuela who infected his female partner.
This outbreak is evolving at a time when a lot of college students and young adults are heading down to Mexico and the Caribbean for spring break.
"I would suggest that all women who are in that age group and are going down there to travel, don't,” says Bhargava. “Unless you are taking precautions both against pregnancy and against the insects that are causing this, which is the mosquitoes. Wear that mosquito repellant, wear that long clothing, and if you can possibly not travel right now until you are more aware of what Zika is doing, that's what I would advise."
With the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio this year, the U.S. Olympic Committee is hiring infectious disease specialists to assess the risks to American athletes headed to Brazil. Here in the U.S, Bhargava says we’re not expecting the kind of outbreak we’re seeing in Latin America.
“It's not going to be an epidemic, like it is in Brazil,” she says. “But we could still have the same risks. And that is the microcephaly and the birth defects. That that is the real risk.”
The President of Venezuela says 3 people have died in his country because of complications from Zika virus.
Close to 70 people have been hospitalized. Venezuela alone has had about 5,000 cases of suspected Zika virus in the last few months.