The fear of Zika has escalated ever since the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of the virus an international public health emergency. Real concerns loom as to the virus’ ability to cause serious birth defects.
As a third-party reproductive attorney, I took the initiative to ensure a precautionary addendum concerning this virus has been integrated into all surrogacy and egg donation contracts. While the Zika virus is not a public health concern in the United States per se, awareness in this country still needs to be elevated in order to help safeguard those who are in contact with people who have traveled to countries afflicted by the Zika crisis. Alerting surrogates and egg donors to take every reasonable precaution, including not having unprotected sex with anyone who has traveled to these locales, cannot be understated.
While people are canceling travel and business trips to Zika-affected countries, there are heartbreaking concern for women in their reproductive years who live in these countries and cannot completely avoid the virus. Women living in areas such as Latin America or the Caribbean are fearful that if they become pregnant and contract Zika, their unborn child will suffer from severe birth defects. The same fear exists for women not living in these Zika-prone areas but whose sexual partners have recently visited or lived there, since the virus can linger in semen for an unknown period of time.
According to reporter Carmen Sesin of NBC News, “One of the countries travelers are canceling trips to is Brazil, which is considered the epicenter of the Zika outbreak. Over 4,000 babies in Brazil have been born with microcephaly — a rare neurological disorder where babies are born with small heads and underdeveloped brains. This puts many pregnant women on edge.”
Infants born with microcephaly have developmental issues and require lifelong care. Some also succumb to early death.
Sesin interviewed a resident of Sao Paolo who is in her eighth month of pregnancy.
“To be pregnant at this time, when all you hear in the news is the Zika virus, is truly frightening,” said Juliana Aivazoglou Ebina, 30.
The symptoms of the mosquito-borne illness are a rash, fever, joint pain, headaches and conjunctivitis (pink eye). Can anyone even imagine the fear running through a woman’s mind when she experiences these symptoms in her first trimester of pregnancy? The wait until the day of her child’s birth is going to be long and excruciating.
CNN reports that Brazilian officials are advising residents to delay building their families because of the tremendous risk to developing fetuses.
“It’s a very personal decision, but at this moment of uncertainty, if families can put off their pregnancy plans, that’s what we’re recommending,” said Angela Rocha, a pediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital told reporter Shasta Darlington during a CNN interview.
The number of those who are postponing their IVF procedures in Brazil has increased by 10% because women have been told to avoid pregnancy for another two years. What does a woman do if she is in her late thirties or early forties and wants a child during this crisis? Should she postpone pregnancy and risk that she will no longer be able to conceive naturally after the crisis passes?
In El Salvador, officials are making the same recommendation that women not get pregnant until 2018.
There are other key issues emerging in El Salvador which are directly attributable to Zika. Abortion is illegal and women who have a miscarriage may be faced with imprisonment in El Salvador. Data has revealed a direct link between Zika and miscarriages. What type of jeopardy will women find themselves in if they miscarry due to the Zika virus?
Some pregnant women living in Zika-affected countries have decided to move to an unaffected country until their baby is born. But not every person can do this, whether for logistical or financial reasons.
While Zika is causing major panic in Latin America and the Caribbean, the truth of the matter is that the outbreak is a major public health concern that could affect people across the globe, especially as travelers returning from countries in the midst of the outbreak potentially spread the virus to previously Zika-free areas.