Newspaper article International New York Times

Zika Experts Split on Pregnancy Advice ; Some U.S. Experts Want Agency to Warn Women, but Others Cite Free Choice

Newspaper article International New York Times

Zika Experts Split on Pregnancy Advice ; Some U.S. Experts Want Agency to Warn Women, but Others Cite Free Choice

Article excerpt

Some experts say avoiding conception is the only sure way to prevent deformed babies; others say the government should not tell women what to do with their bodies.

As the Zika virus bears down on the United States, federal health officials are divided over a politically and ethically charged question: Should they advise American women to delay pregnancy in areas where the virus is circulating?

Some infectious disease experts are arguing that avoiding conception is the only sure way to prevent the births of deformed babies, according to outside researchers who serve on various advisory panels.

Women's health specialists, on the other hand, counter that the government should not tell women what to do with their bodies.

Indeed, federal health officials have never advised all the women in a region of the country to stop having children. Moreover, they say, most babies conceived during Zika epidemics in Latin America have been born healthy.

Several federal experts central to the discussion declined to be interviewed for this article.

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, described the internal debate as "a very long conversation."

For now, "we do not have a recommendation to not become pregnant," Dr. Frieden said at a "Zika summit" held recently at the disease agency's headquarters in Atlanta. "We do recommend access to contraception."

On Wednesday, the agency confirmed what many experts already believed: that the mosquito-borne virus, which is usually mild in adults, can cause severe brain damage in infants.

In view of the gathering evidence, health officials in some countries struck by Zika epidemics, including El Salvador and Colombia, have urged women to avoid pregnancy.

Dr. Marcos Espinal, who directs the Zika response of the Pan American Health Organization, an arm of the World Health Organization, said in an interview that he thought advising women to avoid conception during an epidemic's relatively brief peak months, as Colombia did, "is sound advice."

Yet the W.H.O. does not follow that policy.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, the agency's head of emergency response, called avoiding pregnancy "a complicated decision that is different for each individual woman. …

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