It gives me great joy to report the only good news about the Zika virus to date. No, there's still no vaccine, and it's still super dangerous for pregnant women (scientists think). The good news is that once you've had it, that's it. Patients are immune to Zika after they've contracted the virus and recovered. This is great news for women who may become pregnant in the future.
While a definite link has yet to be proven, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention caution that Zika has been linked to microcephaly in babies whose mothers had the virus while pregnant. Babies are also at risk of "absent or poorly developed brain structures, defects of the eye, hearing deficits, and impaired growth." This is particularly bad news considering the fact that abortion is illegal in most of the countries that are currently affected by the outbreak. The BBC has reported that, while some countries make exceptions in the case of rape or specific health threats, for now, Zika and microcephaly do not qualify for exceptions. Of the affected regions, only Guyana and French Guiana permit abortion without exception, and some countries are exceptionally strict, such as El Salvador, where women are jailed for having spontaneous miscarriages.
While thousands of women are being forced by their governments to carry and give birth to disabled children they may not be equipped to care for, there is a glimmer of hope: Women on Waves, the charity that provides abortions in international waters to women whose countries prohibit abortion, and also provides medical abortion pills via drone, has offered to provide free medical abortions to pregnant women with Zika after the patients complete an online consultation with a doctor.
Here in the United States, women with Zika can obtain an abortion more easily, provided they have the time, the money, and live in the right state. So far, of the nine pregnant U.S. women infected with Zika, two have had abortions, and two have miscarried. One baby was born with microcephaly, and two were born healthy. The remaining two pregnancies are ongoing. According to NBC News, the outcomes of these pregnancies may indicate that first trimester Zika infection is more likely to cause birth defects than a second or third trimester infection.
For now, the best course of action for Latin American women is to avoid pregnancy until the Zika epidemic has been contained, or until they've been infected and recovered, rendering them immune. That's no small feat, though: according to TIME, most women in the region don't have access to contraception or even sex education, and sexual violence runs rampant. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if we started hearing about people intentionally infecting themselves before they reach childbearing age. It sounds crazy, but chicken pox parties were totally a thing in the 1980s before the chicken pox vaccine was created (and are still a thing with ignorant parents who think a potentially deadly disease is preferable to a shot in the arm). And until we have a Zika vaccine, for some, this might be the only way to combat its most dangerous effects.