New Zika warning from health leaders: Consider delaying pregnancy

New Zika warning from health leaders: Consider delaying pregnancy
© Getty Images
 
The world’s top health leaders have issued sweeping guidelines urging women to consider delaying pregnancy if they live in one of the nearly 50 countries affected by the Zika virus.
 
In its strongest warning yet about the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) said couples of reproductive age in the affected countries should be “correctly informed and oriented to consider delaying pregnancy.”
 
ADVERTISEMENT
New guidelines from the WHO cover 46 countries with declared outbreaks of the virus, which includes most of South and Central America. It would also apply to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. 
 
The WHO quietly released the guidelines Tuesday, though they received little attention until the agency issued an update on Thursday. It’s the first time the WHO has updated its Zika health recommendations since February.
 
It’s a controversial move that stands in contrast with the strong insistence by U.S. health officials not to weigh in on the issue.
 
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said as recently as May 11 that the federal government did not plan to issue specific guidance on what he said was an “intensely personal” decision. 
 
“Obviously the government is not going to be making decisions for people, particularly when it comes to something as personal as starting or growing your family,” Earnest told reporters at the time.  
 
“But we do want people to have access to the best information they can get as they make that important and very personal decision.”
 
Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden has taken a similar stance, insisting it is not his agency’s responsibility to dictate the decision.
 
“When it comes to the decision of whether or not to become pregnant, that’s between the woman and her partner and family and her clinician,” Frieden said in an interview in February.  
 
Five countries have already issued similar warnings to women, after reporting dozens – and in some cases, hundreds – of cases of the birth defect microcephaly, in which babies are born with abnormally small heads. 
 
Now on a far broader scale, the guidelines will present an immense challenge to many of the less-developed countries, where contraception is harder to come by.
 
In its guidance Thursday, the WHO said countries dealing with Zika need to ensure women have access to contraception, including condoms.
 
- Updated at 5:07 p.m.