Daily Mail

San Salvador

The government in El Salvador has urged women not to get pregnant until 2018 to avoid having babies born with defects as the Zika virus sweeps across the Latin America.

There have been 5,397 cases of the virus confirmed in El Salvador so far, although no babies have yet been born with microcephaly - underdeveloped skulls and brains - linked with the disease. Deputy Health Minister Eduardo Espinoza warned women not to conceive for two years, as it emerged that 96 pregnant women were among those diagnosed with the mosquito-borne virus.

‘We’d like to suggest to all the women of fertile age that they take steps to plan their pregnancies, and avoid getting pregnant between this year and next,’ he said on Thursday. Although there has been some opposition to the minister comments, with some women claiming his requests are unrealistic. Vanessa Iraheta, 30, who is seven months pregnant with her second child, said: ‘It’s not up to the government; it’s up to God.

I don’t think the youth will stop having children.’ reports The New York Times.

The minister also said that women who are already pregnant should stay covered outdoors to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos, which carry the virus. It is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also known to carry the dengue, yellow fever and Chikungunya viruses. Health experts are unsure why the virus, which was first detected in Africa in 1947 but unknown in the Americas until last year, is spreading so rapidly in Brazil and neighboring countries.

Although research is still underway, significant evidence in Brazil shows a link between Zika infections and rising cases of microcephaly, a neurological disorder in which infants are born with smaller craniums and brains. He said the government decided to make the announcement because 5,397 cases of the Zika virus had been detected in El Salvador in 2015 and the first few days of this year.

In Colombia, which has the second-highest Zika infection rate after Brazil, the government is also advising women to delay becoming pregnant, but only for six to eight months.