WHO says delaying pregnancy option for women in Zika areas

– The World Health Organization says women who live in areas where Zika is spreading should consider delaying pregnancy, since there’s no other sure way to avoid the virus’ devastating birth defects, the Associated Press reports.

The WHO stopped short of recommending that couples put pregnancy on hold.

“It’s not saying they should delay. They should be given the information about it and offered that as an option,” WHO spokeswoman Nyka Alexander said Thursday.

Zika is rapidly spreading through Latin America and the Caribbean, and health officials in several affected countries have made similar recommendations. But the WHO’s guidelines, updated last week, could affect millions of couples who live in outbreak areas.

Zika causes only a mild and brief illness, at worst, in most people. But it can cause fetal death and severe brain defects in the children of women infected during pregnancy, AP says.

There is no vaccine. In outbreak areas, the main defense is to avoid mosquito bites. But Zika also can be spread through unprotected sex with a man who was infected.

In response to the WHO’s new guidelines, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said health care providers should discuss Zika’s risks and how to prevent infection, and provide information about contraception.

“As part of their pregnancy planning and counseling with their health care providers, some women and their partners residing in areas with active Zika virus transmission might decide to delay pregnancy,” the agency said in a statement.