WHO releases Zika guidance for pregnant women
WHO officials recently released guidance on Zika virus infection for women who are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant.
On Feb. 1, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, MD, confirmed that there may be a causal relationship between Zika infection during pregnancy and microcephaly and declared the epidemic a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
In its guidance, however, WHO recommended against travel restrictions related to Zika virus for pregnant women, and said that most women in Zika-endemic regions will not give birth to infants with microcephaly.
As there is no current evidence to suggest that Zika virus can be transmitted to infants through breast-feeding, WHO reiterated guidance from the CDC that recommends women continue to breast-feed. The agency, however, warned that Zika virus infection may be transmitted from mothers to full-term infants during childbirth.
“Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant must determine the level of risk they wish to take with regard to Zika and plan accordingly,” WHO guidance stated.
To reduce the risk for microcephaly in infants, WHO advised women to protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellents that contain DEET, wearing light-colored clothes that cover as much of their bodies as possible, using window screens and mosquito nets, and draining standing water in potential mosquito breeding sites.
The guidance also recommended that all individuals living in or returning from an area with active Zika transmission — especially pregnant women and their partners — practice safer sexual behaviors, including the use of condoms, despite the lack of evidence confirming viral transmission through sexual contact. WHO supported the use of hormonal and barrier contraceptive methods for at-risk women who wish to postpone pregnancy, and stated that women who wish to terminate a pregnancy due to a fear of microcephaly should have access to safe abortion services.
“In countries with restricted access to and/or limited availability of safe abortion, women should be provided accurate information and counseling about their options including information about reducing harms from unsafe abortion and accessing treatment for subsequent complications,” WHO guidance reported.