The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday issued a travel warning for the Caribbean region where infection with zika, a mosquito-borne virus, is a risk.
The CDC also cautioned pregnant women not to travel to those areas as zika has been linked to a serious birth defect.
The travel alert applies to Colombia, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Suriname and Venezuela, among other Caribbean and South American countries and territories.
The first local transmission of zika virus infection was reported in the Caribbean in December 2015. Local transmission means that mosquitoes in the area have been infected with zika virus, spreading it to people. Since then, Haiti and Martinique have reported ongoing transmission of zika.
Barbados has also recorded its first three cases of the zika virus, according to an official from the ministry of health.
In Central America, the first local transmission of zika was reported in November 2015. Since then, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama have reported ongoing transmission of the virus.
The first local transmission of zika in South America was reported in May 2015. Since then, Colombia, French Guiana, Suriname and Venezuela, amongst others, have reported ongoing transmission.
There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat zika.
According to the CDC, the zika virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby. There have been reports of a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected with zika virus while pregnant. Knowledge of the link between Zika and these outcomes is evolving but, until more is known, CDC recommends special precautions for the following groups:
Women who are pregnant (in any trimester):
• Consider postponing travel to any area where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.
• If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your doctor first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.
Women who are trying to become pregnant:
• Before you travel, talk to your doctor about your plans to become pregnant and the risk of Zika virus infection.
• Strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip.
Specific areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing are often difficult to determine and are likely to change over time.
Because Zika virus is spread by mosquitoes, CDC recommends that travelers to the Caribbean protect themselves from mosquito bites.