The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had decided to recommend a waiting period based on the latest information about the Zika virus.
Federal health authorities said for the first time Friday how long couples who have been exposed to the Zika virus should wait before trying to get pregnant.
The officials, at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said they had decided to recommend a waiting period based on the latest scientific information about the virus. The Zika virus has been linked to a surge of birth defects in Brazil, and to cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, in which the immune system attacks part of the nervous system, leading to some paralysis.
Women who have had symptoms of the virus or tested positive for it should wait at least eight weeks after their symptoms first appeared before trying to get pregnant, the agency said. Officials recommended that men who had symptoms should wait six months before having unprotected sex. The virus has been known to live longer in semen. Symptoms can include rashes and sore joints.
“We’re learning more every day, and evidence of a link between Zika and a spectrum of birth outcomes is becoming stronger and stronger,” said Dr. Denise Jamieson, one of the leaders of the pregnancy and birth-defects team, which is part of the CDC’s Zika Virus response Team.
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She added: “We’ve become more concerned,” about the period around the time of conception. “For people who either have the Zika disease or who travel to an area with active Zika transmission, we are now recommending they wait a period of time before trying to get pregnant.”
For people who have traveled to Zika-infected areas, but had no active signs of the disease, the CDC recommended a shorter waiting period — eight weeks for men and women before trying to get pregnant, “to minimize risk.”
Jamieson said the CDC based the waiting periods on the longest known risk period and “allowed three times the longest period,” out of an abundance of caution.
The situation is trickiest for men and women who live in areas where Zika is circulating. CDC officials recommended that doctors talk with patients about the risks of the virus, but stopped short of recommending that women delay pregnancy.
Several countries, including Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and Jamaica, have at least suggested women postpone getting pregnant indefinitely or for varying periods.
“These are very complex, deeply personal decisions,” the CDC said in a statement.
It recommended that men who travel to a Zika-infected area use condoms with a pregnant partner for the duration of her pregnancy.
Men with symptoms should consider using condoms or not having sex for at least six months.
As of this week, 19 of the 273 confirmed Zika cases on the U.S. mainland involve pregnant women. Six of those involved sexual transmission, the CDC said.