Questions grow about Zika's risk to future pregnancy

Fri Mar 4, 2016 2:57pm EST
 
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By Deena Beasley

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Few women have competed in the Olympics while pregnant, but the suspicion that the Zika virus in mothers is causing birth defects is central to calculations by athletes and others planning travel to Brazil in August for the summer games.

Chief among their concerns is whether Zika, unlike similar mosquito-borne viruses, can be transmitted sexually, or remain latent in the body - possibly presenting a risk for women who become pregnant after the Olympics have ended.

More than a dozen disease experts, in interviews with Reuters, said there is no evidence at this point of long-term risk for future pregnancies. But, given the surprises seen with the virus so far, they said people should remain cautious until studies give scientists a better picture of how the virus works. They said it would take months or even years of study for definitive answers to questions about Zika's risks.

Public health agencies have urged pregnant women to avoid travel to Zika outbreak areas but have given little guidance for couples planning to start a family.

Dr. Claire Panosian, of the University of California, Los Angeles, division of infectious diseases, said that for years she has advised couples to wait several months after traveling to exotic locales before trying to conceive because of the risk of birth defects from diseases like toxoplasmosis.

Zika should be no different, she said: "Women of child-bearing age should be very scrupulous - wait several months."

The virus, which is spreading rapidly through the Americas, has been linked to a spike in microcephaly, a rare birth defect, in Brazil. The condition is defined by unusually small heads in newborns and can cause brain damage.

Zika has not been proven to cause microcephaly, but evidence of an association led the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak a global health emergency.   Continued...

 
Kerri Walsh Jennings of the U.S. spikes the ball at the women's beach volleyball gold medal match at the Horse Guards Parade during the London 2012 Olympic Games in this August 8, 2012 file photo. Few women have competed in the Olympics while pregnant, but the suspicion that the Zika virus in mothers is causing birth defects is central to calculations by athletes and others planning travel to Brazil in August for the summer games. Eighteen women have competed in modern Olympics while pregnant according to a group of Olympic historians who publish their statistics at Sports-Reference.com. The number includes U.S. beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh, who was not yet aware she was pregnant when competing in London in 2012.    REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler