More than half of Brazilian women avoid pregnancy due to Zika fear

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More than half of young women in Brazil are forgoing pregnancy due to the ongoing Zika epidemic, a new survey suggests.

Since the outbreak began in Brazil, there have been 1,845 confirmed cases of birth defects tied to the mosquito-borne virus. Many involve microcephaly, a malformation where babies are born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains.

The new study was led by Debora Diniz, a professor at the University of Brasilia. Her team surveyed more than 2,000 Brazilian women, aged 18 to 39, in June of this year.

The result: 56 per cent of the women said they had either avoided or tried to prevent a pregnancy because of the epidemic.

Twenty-seven per cent of the women said they had not tried to avoid pregnancy, while another 16 per cent said they had not planned to get pregnant — regardless of whether Zika was a threat or not.

“The results provide an important first glimpse into how the Zika epidemic has shaped pregnancy intentions among women in Brazil,” Diniz’s team wrote in a letter.

The study suggests that “the Brazilian government must place reproductive health concerns at the centre of its response, including reviewing its continued criminalization of abortion,” the researchers added.

In the United States, officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have so far tallied 32 cases of Zika-linked birth defects in babies in the United States.

Most of those cases resulted from infections picked up in Zika-prone countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the CDC noted.

As of Dec. 7, a total of 1,172 Zika infections in the United States have involved pregnant women, according to CDC estimates.

In research published Dec. 14, CDC scientists estimated that 6 per cent of infected pregnant women will have babies who are born with Zika-linked birth defects, with the first and second trimesters being the most vulnerable period for infection. Their findings were reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The CDC urges people living in Zika-infested areas — especially pregnant women — to take steps to protect themselves from mosquito bites. This includes using an insect repellent registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency containing one of the following ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone.

People should also wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, use or repair screens on windows and doors, use air conditioning when available, and remove standing water inside and outside where mosquitoes can lay eggs.

The Brazilian study was published online Dec. 22 in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care.

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More than half of Brazilian women avoid pregnancy due to Zika fear

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