Abortion and Infectious Disease: The Zika Virus Edition

I’ve discussed before how in the pre-rubella vaccine era (rubella is the “R” in the MMR vaccine) concerns about rubella-induced birth defects helped make more abortion more acceptable in the 1960s. Brazil’s reaction to the spread of the Zika virus, which can cause microcephaly, sounds familiar (boldface mine):

A little-known virus spread by mosquitoes is causing one of the most alarming health crises to hit Brazil in decades, officials here warn: thousands of cases of brain damage, in which babies are born with unusually small heads.

Many pregnant women across Brazil are in a panic. The government, under withering criticism for not acting sooner, is urging them to take every precaution to avoid mosquito bites. One official even suggested that women living in areas where mosquitoes are especially prevalent postpone having children.

“If she can wait, then she should,” said Claudio Maierovitch, director of the department of surveillance of communicable diseases at Brazil’s Health Ministry…

The Brazilian government has stopped short of officially advising women not to get pregnant, but confusion and fear are spreading along with the virus.

“The situation is incredibly frightening,” said Andreza Mireli Silva, 22, a worker in a shoe factory in Sergipe State in northeast Brazil who is seven months pregnant. She said she was trying to avoid mosquito bites by wearing long pants despite the heat of the summer and applying insect repellent every three hours.

I find it incredible that the NY Times story–or any of the other coverage I’ve read–doesn’t mention that abortion is illegal in Brazil. It’s not an option at all, even if a woman were to be seropositive for Zika virus. If Zika virus isn’t stamped out, and given the particular mosquito vector that spreads it, that doesn’t seem likely, this disease very well could change Brazil’s no-abortion policy.

Postscript: Zika virus has now been found in Puerto Rico, and doctors there are also discouraging women from getting pregnant. This isn’t just a Brazilian issue any more. Maybe this should be a presidential debate question. Just saying.

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