The Zika virus is spreading in the Americas, and is now expected to reach nearly every country, including the United States. Since it first appeared in Brazil in May 2015, over a million cases have been reported in that country alone. Symptoms are usually mild, but the virus is thought to be responsible for 3,500 cases of infants born with abnormally small heads, a debilitating condition known as microcephaly. Late last week, countries in Central and South America began taking the dramatic step of urging women to hold off on getting pregnant. In Colombia, the recommended hiatus is six to eight months. In El Salvador the government has gone even further, asking women to consider avoiding pregnancy until 2018. Jamaica and Honduras have made similar pleas.
There is no vaccine or treatment for the disease. But efforts are underway to combat the mosquitos that carry Zika, Aedes aegypti, using genetically modified variants of the bugs to cause population crashes. As governments and public health authorities become increasingly concerned about the spread of Zika—especially with the prospect of hundreds of thousands of tourists traveling to Brazil later this year for the Olympics—interest in this technological solution may intensify.