Dominican Health Minister Altagracia Guzman Marcelino on Wednesday asked women to postpone getting pregnant this year due to the threat posed by the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects.
Nirav Shah said both women recently traveled to Central America, where a simple mosquito bite can transmit the Zika virus. There is no vaccine to prevent either zika or chikungunya, though Brazil has dedicated funds to speeding up research to develop a zika vaccine.
Guzman Marcelino reiterated the importance of eliminating the breeding sites for mosquitoes.
The Zika virus, which normally causes a fairly mild illness, is now suspected of causing birth defects if the mother is exposed during her pregnancy. In those that do, the worst of it involves fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes - which usually lasts no more than a week. It's marked by an abnormally small head and underdeveloped brain.
Brazil is claiming thousands of babies have been born with brain injuries.
According to the Pan American Health Organization, the virus will likely spread to all 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries as well as the southern part of the United States.
However, Brazil has been combating a large outbreak, and Brazilian officials have noted a significant increase in cases of microcephaly-more than 3,500 microcephaly cases were reported in that country between October 2015 and January 2016. Schaffner also said that the nation's hospitals and testing centers don't have the capacity to test all the women who probably need to be tested.
Microcephaly can be caused by a variety of environmental and genetic factors such as Downs syndrome; exposure to drugs, alcohol or other toxins in the womb; and rubella infection during pregnancy.
This applies to pregnant women who have traveled to Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Puerto Rico. Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. As a precautionary measure, some national governments may make public health and travel recommendations to their own populations, based on their assessments of the available evidence and local risk factors.
But a recent and particularly widespread outbreak of Zika in Brazil drew global attention when rates of a rare birth defect skyrocketed starting previous year. Health officials believe travelers brought the virus into the US.