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    Zika Virus Prompts CDC Warning for 14 Countries

    Exposure to mosquito-borne Zika virus linked to birth defects in Brazil, health officials say in issuing travel alert for Central and South America and the Caribbean

    WebMD News from HealthDay

    By Steven Reinberg

    HealthDay Reporter

    FRIDAY, Jan. 15, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. health officials issued a travel warning late Friday for 14 countries and territories exposed to the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been linked to a torrent of birth defects in Brazil.

    The travel alert targets pregnant women and those who want to become pregnant and follows reports that thousands of babies in Brazil were born last year with microcephaly, a brain disorder experts associate with Zika exposure. Babies with the condition have abnormally small heads, resulting in developmental issues and in some cases death.

    The alert, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lists the following countries and regions in Central and South America and the Caribbean: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.

    The alert recommends that women who are pregnant postpone travel to those areas, and that women wanting to become pregnant consult their doctors before setting out on any trip to those areas. In all cases, the alert said, women should take steps to avoid mosquito bites.

    "We believe this is a fairly serious problem," Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC's Division of Vector Borne Infectious Diseases, said during an evening press conference Friday.

    "The virus is spreading fairly rapidly throughout the Americas and a large percentage of the population may become infected," he said. "Because of the growing evidence that there is a link between Zika virus and microcephaly, we thought it was very important to warn people as soon as possible."

    Petersen said he has no idea when the travel advisory will be lifted, noting it is likely to still be in effect when the summer Olympics begin in Brazil in August.

    "It's a dynamic situation and we are just going to have to wait and see how it all plays out," he said. "It's really impossible for us to speculate what will happen."

    Although new test results provide new evidence of a link between Zika and microcephaly, it isn't known if Zika alone is responsible or if other risk factors might be involved, Petersen said, adding more studies are planned to examine the link.

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