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Health officials just issued a new travel warning for Southeast Asia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests pregnant women and those trying to get pregnant should consider postponing trips to 11 countries in Southeast Asia because of the Zika virus. NPR's Michaeleen Doucleff explains why the CDC is now concerned about that region and what pregnant women's partners should do if they need to travel there.
MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFF, BYLINE: For months now, the CDC has been telling pregnant women not to travel to places where the Zika virus is actively circulating - that's in Central America, South America and the Caribbean - because Zika can cause severe birth defects. But for Southeast Asia, the CDC's new warning is not as strong. They're telling women to seriously consider canceling a trip and to talk to their doctors if they have to go. The CDC's Dr. Denise Jamieson says the softer warning is because Zika isn't as common in Southeast Asia as it is in Latin America.
DENISE JAMIESON: Although we believe the level of risk for Zika virus infection is likely lower in Southeast Asian countries, we still feel there is some risk to pregnant women.
DOUCLEFF: Scientists first detected Zika in Southeast Asia back in the 1960s. Since then, it's been hiding out across the region and causing small outbreaks every now and then. But in the past few months, something has changed. Jamieson says health officials have started detecting more and more cases in the region. Singapore is fighting an outbreak with nearly 400 people infected, and Thailand is investigating a few cases of birth defects possibly linked to Zika. Jamieson says the CDC isn't sure why there's been this Zika surge in Southeast Asia.
JAMIESON: It could be that there's more attention paid to Zika virus by public health authorities, and they're doing additional testing, and people are more aware. It also could be that there is a real increase in transmission consistent with an outbreak.
DOUCLEFF: So the CDC is being cautious. Jamieson says pregnant women who have traveled to Southeast Asia should get tested for Zika when they get home, even if they don't have symptoms. If their partners have been to the area, they should practice safe sex or abstain for six months to keep from passing the virus that way. And when in doubt, check out the CDC's website before you take a trip. Travel guidelines for Zika get updated frequently.
Michaeleen Doucleff, NPR News.
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