Zika virus concern suspends travel for some Chicago-area pregnant women

Concerns over the spread of the Zika virus has caused some to suspend their travel plans. (WLS)

Concerns over the Zika virus are forcing many people in the Chicago area to change their travel plans.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising pregnant women to reconsider travel to Brazil and 21 other countries because of the health threat.

It's a story medical professionals think is going to get a lot bigger before it's clearly understood. But travelers for now are urged to be extra cautious - and plan accordingly.

In Downers Grove, Natalie Ephraim listens to the beating heart of her 20-week-old fetus, whose sex will be revealed Wednesday night at a family party. But it's the only celebrating on tap for Ephraim - she and her husband are forgoing a "babymoon" set for Florida.

"It is a bit scary to be bit by a mosquito, I guess if you are pregnant, especially if you are leaving the country or going somewhere warm," she said.

Dr. Shamita Bonsore says Ephraim's caution about travel is well-advised.

"Where we start from is, is there any exposure? Is there any travel history? That's the important thing. After that, the symptoms are actually just mild and very gentle," Dr. Bonsore said.

The veteran obstetrician/gynecologist has been alarmed by reports, especially out of Brazil, that an epidemic of microcephaly - a birth defect that results in the heads of babies being smaller than normal - may be traced to Zika virus.

"We are evaluating... whether to ask donors to self-defer for 28 days following their return to the U.S. if they traveled to areas with ongoing Zika outbreaks," The American Red Cross said in a statement.

"I am just going to put up a note, a notice in front of our office stating if you have traveled to South America or Central America, please notify your M.D.," Dr. Bonsore said.

U.S. airlines, including United and American, have suspended fees for changing many flights bound for the Zika-affected zones, including tourist hotspots Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

"You don't want to cause a panic and you want to be there for the customers, you want them to re-book - go to a safer area, you want them to keep flying. We still want our customers to travel," said Nicki Squittieri, a travel consultant.

On Tuesday President Obama met with his top public health officials and called for research leading to a Zika vaccine - a virus which only made it to the Americas last May.

The state's public health department says that two pregnant Illinois women have come down with the Zika virus after traveling to places where it has been found. The mosquito that transmits the virus is rarely found here.

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