El Salvador Advises Women to Avoid Pregnancy for 2 Years Because of Zika Outbreak

El Salvador advises women not to have babies for 2 years.

ByABC News
January 26, 2016, 12:10 PM

— -- As worries intensify about the Zika virus because of its association with a rare paralysis syndrome and rise of birth defect called microcephaly, health officials are taking drastic measures to stop the disease.

In a stunning development in El Salvador, health officials have advised all women of reproductive age to delay pregnancy until 2018 because of concerns about possible birth defects linked to the virus. Earlier this month, the El Salvador Health Department disclosed they had found 492 Zika cases.

The spokeswoman for El Salvador health department confirmed to ABC News they are advising women from becoming pregnant but have not issued any official guidelines or policy statements.

The El Salvador advisory comes after thousands of children in Brazil were born with a dangerous birth defect called microcephaly, where head and brain are not fully developed.

In Brazil, the government has called in the military to assist with a nationwide push to eradicate the virus. The health minister said that the military and civil defense services would be called in to help health workers combat the virus, which is spread my mosquitoes.

Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Castro said in a statement Friday that the government would use 266,000 community health workers and 44,000 health agents to combat the disease. Concerns about the virus spiked after thousands of infants were born with microcephaly birth defect, where the head and brain are underdeveloped. Officials are also probing if a rare paralysis syndrome called Guillain-Barre Syndrome is connected to the disease.

That rare syndrome is caused by an immunological response after an infection and has been known to occur after other viral and bacterial infections, including influenza.

Other countries including Colombia have reportedly advised women to avoid getting pregnant until there is more information about the Zika virus.

"Like chikungunya, Zika is a new virus that the population of the Americas has no immunity to," Dr. Marcos Espinal, director of Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization's Department of Communicable Diseases, said last week. "It has already spread to 17 countries in our region, and the rest should be prepared for its further spread."

The virus is transmitted mainly through the bite of the Aedes genus of mosquitoes. This is the same type of mosquito that spreads dengue fever.

The virus has been found mainly in tropical settings in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. An outbreak of the disease in Brazil lead to an alert by the Pan American Health Organization last May.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued Zika virus travel alerts for pregnant women traveling to the following countries: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Guyana, Cape Verde and Samoa.

Common symptoms of Zika infection include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, according to the CDC. Approximately 1 in 5 people infected with the virus shows symptoms. Severe complications from Zika that require hospitalization are rare, and most people are over the worst of the symptoms after a week, according to the CDC.

ABC News' Michael Nedelman contributed to this report.