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US health officials on Thursday recommended that pregnant women postpone nonessential travel to 11 Southeast Asian countries because of the risk of Zika virus infection, which has been shown to cause severe birth defects. more…

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by September 30, 2016 General

US health officials on Thursday recommended that pregnant women postpone nonessential travel to 11 Southeast Asian countries because of the risk of Zika virus infection, which has been shown to cause severe birth defects.

The latest countries singled out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste (East Timor), and Vietnam.

The CDC said “travel notices,” such as those issued for Zika-struck countries such as Brazil and Singapore, had not been issued for those destinations, but such warnings would be considered if the number of cases rose to the level of an outbreak.

Zika, which is mainly a mosquito-borne disease, was first identified in Brazil last year and has been spreading globally. The CDC has so far advised pregnant women to avoid going to about 60 countries and regions because of the active spread of the virus.

Unlike parts of Central and South America and the Caribbean hit hardest by the recent Zika outbreak, areas of Southeast Asia have had the virus present for many years. It is considered endemic in these countries, the CDC said in a statement, and many people who lived there were likely immune.

The agency said there had been recent variations in the number of cases reported in the region and, while the level of risk was unknown, Zika virus infection during pregnancy caused severe birth defects, including microcephaly and other severe brain abnormalities.

Henry Harteveldt, founder of the travel consultancy Atmosphere Research Group, said the warning could discourage visits to Southeast Asia ahead of the peak winter travel season around Christmas and New Years.

“Some of these destinations are very popular for students and younger adults in their 20s or 30s looking for vacations, whether it’s a backpacking tour or surfing or swimming,” said Mr Harteveldt. “This could have a noticeable impact on inbound tourism and (cause) some economic damage.”

The impact may not be limited to US vacationers, he added.

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