'Zika virus unlikely to reach SA'
Institute for Communicable Diseases says people travelling to affected countries need to be extra careful.
CAPE TOWN - The National Institute for Communicable Diseases says it's highly unlikely the Zika virus will reach South Africa's shores.
There's an outbreak of the virus in some south and central American countries.
Pregnant women are being advised to be particularly careful not to get bitten by a specific mosquito that transmits the virus.
The institute's Lucille Blumberg says South Africans travelling to those countries must take the necessary precautions.
"For South Africa is a little different, Zika has only been identified northern Uganda, in Africa. So it is spread by specific mosquitos."
For scores of women in the epicenter of the Zika outbreak in Brazil, the joy of pregnancy has given way to fear.
In about four-fifths of cases, Zika causes no noticeable symptoms so women have no idea if they contracted it during pregnancy.
Test kits for the virus are only effective in the first week of infection and only available at private clinics at a cost of 900 reais, more than the monthly minimum wage.
At Recife's IMIP hospital, dozens of soon-to-be mothers wait anxiously for ultrasound scans that will indicate whether the child they are carrying has a shrunken head and damaged brain, a condition called microcephaly. The hospital has already had 160 babies born there with the deformity since August.
"It's very frightening. I'm worried my daughter will have microcephaly," says Elisangela Barros, 40, shedding a tear behind her thick-rimmed glasses. "My neighborhood is poor and full of mosquitoes, trash and has no running water. Five of my neighbors have Zika."
Doctors worry the outbreak will lead to an increase in dangerous clandestine abortions in the majority-Catholic country. Under Brazilian law, terminating pregnancies is illegal except in cases of rape and when the mothers' life is at risk.
The rapid spread of Zika to 22 countries in the Americas has prompted some governments to advise women to delay having children. El Salvador recommended women not get pregnant for two years.
It has also triggered debate on liberalising abortion in the region, where many countries have strict laws.
"Fear is growing among women because this is a new disease that we know little about. We don't have many answers," said Adriana Scavuzzi, a gynecologist at the IMIP hospital.
Women's rights organisations are advocating legal abortion in the case of women who contract Zika, a move that so far has been only taken by Colombia's health ministry.
In Brazil, a group of researchers, activists and lawyers plans to petition the Supreme Court to allow abortions for women who have the virus, by-passing an increasingly conservative Congress where Evangelical lawmakers are backing a bill to restrict abortion even in cases of rape.
The same group won a ruling in 2012 to extend legal abortion to anencephaly, a defect in which the baby is born without parts of the skull and brain and almost always dies shortly after.
With Brazil's health care system already over-stretched, the future for many mothers could be grim if the Supreme Court does not act, said Debora Diniz, a law professor leading the campaign.
"We will soon have a generation of poor women whose destiny will be to look after extremely dependent children full-time," she said.
Additional information by Reuters