Pregnant women, or those trying to get pregnant, should stay away from Southeast Asia, a special travel advisory from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns.
The advisory, released Tuesday, says that women should “consider postponing nonessential travel” to 11 countries, specifically: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Maldives, Myanmar (Burma), the Philippines, Thailand, East Timor and Vietnam.
As for Singapore, the CDC says women “should not travel there.” The stronger warning for Singapore comes from the current outbreak plaguing the country. Around 400 people have been diagnosed with Zika since the end of August, NPR reports.
Zika, which initially started in South America earlier this year, was first detected in the Southeast in the 1960s. Scientists believe that the virus has been present in the region throughout the years, with several countries reporting isolated cases or outbreaks of the virus, according to Dr. Denise Jamieson of the CDC.
In the past months, Zika cases have ramped up in Southeast Asian countries, starting with Singapore.
Cases have also been reported in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. In Thailand, health officials are looking into microcephaly cases to see if they have any links to Zika, the World Health Organization reported Thursday.
Jamieson says, “Although we believe the level of risk for Zika virus infection in Southeast Asia is likely lower than in Latin America — where the virus is spreading widely — we still feel there is some risk to pregnant women in Southeast Asia.”
The Zika virus strain in South America and the Caribbean is closely linked to severe birth defects in newborns whose mothers were infected. These include microcephaly, brain damage and stunted development.
The strain of the mosquito-borne virus in Southeast Asia is different than the one spreading in Latin America, but experts think they carry similarly dangerous effects on infants.
Pregnant women who must travel to Southeast Asia are urged to discuss preventive measures with their doctors and take precautions to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes or getting infected through other means.
Both men and women who have been in Zika regions are cautioned to wait six months before trying to get pregnant, WHO says. Safe sex is a must as well, to prevent the virus from spreading through sexual transmission, whether vaginal, anal or oral.