Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia doctor warns pregnant women against travel to Zika-hit areas

The head of microbiology at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax is warning pregnant women to avoid travel to countries affected by the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

Halifax travel agents says he's fielding calls from worried travellers who want to change travel plans

Dr. Todd Hatchette recommends women trying to conceive wait until two weeks after they have left the affect country. (CBC News)

The head of microbiology at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax is warning pregnant women and women who hope to become pregnant to avoid travelling to countries affected by the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

"This is an emerging virus," Dr. Todd Hatchette said. "It's been around for a while, but we've never seen it to this degree."  

The Zika virus is believed to have a possible connection to microcephaly, a rare neurological birth defect characterized by an abnormally small head that can lead to developmental issues or even death.

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a public health emergency. 

Only 20 per cent of people infected show symptoms, which include headache, fever, red eyes, and a rash.

The virus has been found in 22 countries, and Hatchette says health care providers expect the number of affected countries to continue increasing. 

"Because the mosquito that's required to transmit this infection is found everywhere in North, Central, and South America except for Chile and Canada," he said. 

While he says it won't spread in Canada, it could still impact women who are pregnant or become pregnant while travelling. Since the virus has an incubation period, he recommends women not conceive until two weeks after they leave the affected country.

Free flight changes for pregnant women

Meanwhile, travel agents in Halifax are fielding calls from the concerned travellers who want to change their plans due to the outbreak.

"Many of the suppliers that we're working with now, both airlines and tour operators, are offering free changes or free cancellations, for pregnant women in particular with medical notes," said Flight Centre travel agent Ryan Gomes.

Gomes noted there is no federal travel advisory for the countries impacted by the Zika virus.

Instead, Canadian and U.S. authorities advise pregnant women to consider delaying travel to the region, and consult their physician. 

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