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Zika virus causes pregnancy scare - Brazil women warned not to get pregnant as virus linked to rare birth defect

Published:Wednesday | December 9, 2015 | 12:02 AM

Due to the spread of zika virus (ZIKV) in Brazil, a ministry health official has advised women to avoid getting pregnant.

The mosquito-borne ZIKV has resulted in 646 reported cases in the state of Pernambuco, a region where a state of emergency has recently been declared.

"Don't get pregnant at the moment," advised Claudio Maierovitch, the director of the communicable disease surveillance department at Brazil's ministry of health.

He added, "That's the wisest course of action."

The zika virus is responsible for an increase in cases of micro-encephalitis, an inflammation of the foetal brain that can stunt the growth of the affected foetus' head.

Ministry health officials in Brazil have recorded two adult deaths and 1,248 cases of micro-encephalitis since the outbreak was first detected in April and has since spread to 13 states.

The majority of cases of micro-encephalitis have occurred in the north-east of Brazil. Cases, however, quickly started to appear in the south-east states of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

An autopsy on a baby born with microcephaly in the state of Ceara revealed the presence of the zika virus, a disease carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also transmits dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya.

In an unprecedented move, in November the Brazilian health ministry linked the zika virus to the microcephaly epidemic. Previously, the condition had been attributed to radiation or drug use by the expectant mother.

In a message posted on its website, the health ministry insists that more research is needed to clarify the connection between the virus and the condition. It states the period of greatest risk for pregnant women appears to be in the first three months of gestation.

Though it is not official policy, Maierovitch has advised women in high-risk areas to avoid attempting to conceive.

Last week, the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization issued a worldwide epidemiological alert because of the virus. ZIKV has also been reported in Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Brazilian health minister, Marcelo Castro, said that cases of the zika virus were expected to increase across the country.

Brazil is host of the 2016 Summer Olympics Games.