[Ed. – This is a health problem we need to be paying attention to. There’s already an instance of it affecting a baby born in Hawaii.]
The rapid spread of the Zika virus has prompted Latin American governments to urge women not to get pregnant for up to two years, an extraordinary precaution aimed at avoiding birth defects believed to be linked to the mosquito-borne illness.
What until recently was a seemingly routine public health problem for countries that are home to a certain type of mosquito has morphed into a potentially culture-shaping phenomenon in which the populations of several nations have been asked to delay procreation. The World Health Organization says at least 20 countries or territories in the region, including Barbados and Bolivia, Guadeloupe and Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Panama, have registered transmission of the virus.
Although the Zika virus has been documented since the 1940s, it began its assault on Latin America in the past several months. The hardest-hit country has been Brazil, where more than 1 million people have contracted the virus. In the past four months, authorities have received reports of nearly 4,000 cases in which Zika may have caused microcephaly in newborns. The condition results in an abnormally small head and is associated with incomplete brain development. Colombia, which shares an Amazonian border with Brazil, reacted to its own Zika outbreak, numbering more than 13,000 cases, by urging women not to get pregnant in the next several months. Other countries, including Jamaica and Honduras, also have urged women to delay having babies.
After more than 5,000 suspected Zika cases were reported last year and in the first weeks of 2016, El Salvador on Thursday took the most extreme stance so far: Deputy Health Minister Eduardo Espinoza urged women to refrain from getting pregnant before 2018.