On Thursday, the El Salvadorean government recommended that all women in the entire country refrain from getting pregnant for the next two years. The extreme recommendation was made in an attempt to prevent children from being born with brain damage due to the Zika virus.

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Colombia has also recommended that women avoid getting pregnant, but only for the next six to eight months.

According to Reuters, 5,397 cases of the virus were reported in El Salvador in 2015. 96 pregnant women are suspected of having contracted the disease, but thus far, no baby has been affected.

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“We’d like to suggest to all the women of fertile age that they take steps to plan their pregnancies, and avoid getting pregnant between this year and next,” said Deputy Health Minister Eduardo Espinoza. Women who are already pregnant should attempt to stay covered up while outdoors.

The virus is carried and transmitted by the Aedes species mosquitoes (which also carry dengue and chikungunya viruses) and can cause fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, although only one in five people who carry the virus ever show symptoms. Pregnant women, however, are likely to pass the virus onto their babies, potentially causing microencephaly—a birth defect causing babies to be born with an abnormally small head, and often, brain damage.

On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised pregnant women in the U.S. to avoid travel to 13 countries affected by the virus in Latin America and the Caribbean. The travel advisory applies to El Salvador, Colombia, Brazil, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.


Contact the author at joanna@jezebel.com.

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Angelica Pereira holds Luiza, who was born with microencephaly outside their house in Santa Cruz do Capibaribe, Pernambuco state, Brazil. Image via AP.