Couples with Zika risk told to wait much longer to become pregnant

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is stepping up its warnings about the Zika virus for couples trying to become pregnant.

CDC officials said Friday that women should wait at least six months before trying to get pregnant if their partner has possible Zika exposure. The previous recommendation had been eight weeks.

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The substantially longer wait period is “expected to minimize the risk of sexual transmission around the time of conception and prevent possible early fetal exposure to the Zika virus,” according to the CDC’s statement.

The agency also said women should use a condom or abstain from sex for at least six months if their partner may have been exposed to the virus — also up from eight weeks.

Public health officials have given increasingly bold warnings about the effects of the Zika virus, which can cause birth defects, as more research is done on the still relatively unknown disease. 

More than 25,000 cases of Zika have been reported in the U.S. and its territories, including about 2,200 pregnant women.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, a deputy director at the CDC, said this week that between 1 and 13 percent of babies born to Zika-infected mothers are likely to have a brain development defect called microcephaly, but she warned there are also risks of other problems.

"Right now we don’t know what the chances are that if you get Zika during pregnancy, your baby will be fine," Schuchat said. 

The recommendation specifically applies to men who do not have symptoms of the virus, which can resemble those of the flu. About 80 percent of people with the virus do not have symptoms.

The agency did not change its guidance for women with possible Zika exposure, who are told to wait at least eight weeks before trying to become pregnant.

The recommendation was updated based on “the accumulating evidence, expert opinion, and knowledge about risks associated with other viral infections around the time of conception."