Pregnant women should avoid traveling to countries at risk of mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission, which is strongly suspected of causing microcephaly, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) said on Thursday.
Microcephaly, which literally means small head, is a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development. In hard-hit Brazil there is a possible link between the virus and a neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome, it said.
Also read: Explainer: Where did Zika virus come from and why is it a problem in Brazil?
"Women who have made such trips and develop Zika symptoms fever, rash, muscle aches and conjunctivitis during or within 2 weeks of their travel should be tested for the virus. Clinicians should report positive tests to the appropriate local or state health department. In addition, they should schedule regular ultrasounds to monitor fetal growth in Zika-positive pregnant women," said Dr K K Aggarwal, Secretary General, IMA.
The list of countries in the travel alert issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which include 14 countries and territories in Central and South America and the Caribbean, are Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, said a statement issued by IMA.
The CDC added 8 countries and territories to the list; of these, six are in the Caribbean and South America: Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, and Guyana and the two Cape Verde and Samoa, break the geographic pattern. Cape Verde is off the coast of Africa while Samoa is in Polynesia.
Brazil has counted a surge of almost 4000 cases of microcephaly in newborns since October 2015.
The abnormally small heads of these babies often are accompanied by incomplete brain development, which can lead to a lifetime of health problems. In severe cases, newborns do not survive for long.
Faced with these risks, Colombia and El Salvador have urged women to delay becoming pregnant, in the case of El Salvador, until 2018.
Zika infection is generally a mild illness in adults.Only one in 5 individuals who catch the virus develops symptoms, which usually disappear within a week.
Zika has been isolated in human semen, and one case of possible person-to-person sexual transmission has been described, the statement said. However, there is currently no evidence of Zika being transmitted to babies through breast milk.
The disease's rapid spread, to 21 countries and territories of the Latin America since May 2015, is due to a lack of immunity among the population and the prevalence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the virus.
A small number of European tourists have been diagnosed with the disease upon their return from Central or South America.
The Zika virus is "spreading explosively" in the Americas and can infect upto four million people, the WHO warned on Thursday as it issued a warning to all countries, including India, who have the vector of Aedes mosquito that also causes Dengue and Chikungunya.
The Zika virus is caused by the aggressive Aedes aegypti mosquito that also causes Dengue and Chikungunya both the viral diseases are of great public health concern to tropical countries like India.