SAO PAULO – Brazil asked women on Friday to delay getting pregnant until the worst of the pandemic has passed, saying the variant of the virus that ravaged the South American country appears to be affecting pregnant women more than previous versions of the coronavirus.
The recommendations come as Brazil continues to be one of the centers of the global pandemic, with more Brazilians dying from the virus every day than anywhere else in the world.
Hospitals are under pressure and stocks of drugs needed to intubate seriously ill patients are running low, with Brazil turning to international partners for help with emergency supplies.
“If possible, delay pregnancy a little until a better time,” Health Ministry official Raphael Parente told a news conference on Friday.
He said the recommendations were partly due to pressure on the health system but also because of the more contagious Brazilian variant known as P.1.
“The clinical experience of specialists shows that this new variant acts more aggressively in pregnant women,” said Parente.
Previously, COVID-19 cases during pregnancy were focused on the final trimester and delivery, whereas more recently there have been more serious cases in the second and sometimes first trimester, he said.
Parente did not provide further details.
The P.1 variant, first discovered in the Amazon city of Manaus, quickly became dominant in Brazil. It is thought to be the main factor behind a massive second wave of infections that has brought the country’s death toll to more than 350,000 – the second highest in the world after the United States.
The outbreak in Brazil is increasingly affecting younger people, with hospital data showing that in March more than half of all patients in intensive care were 40 years or younger.
President Jair Bolsonaro has opposed the lockdown and held large events in which he often did not wear a mask. He has recently used a vaccine as a possible solution, but inoculation launches have been plagued by delays and missing targets to get people inoculated.
This week, vaccinations were halted in several cities due to a shortage of vaccine supplies, according to local media.
The spike in COID-19 cases has also left hospitals short on the sedative needed for patients requiring mechanical ventilation.
An emergency shipment of drugs arrived in Brazil on Thursday evening from China, while a donation from Spain is expected to arrive next week.
Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have both sounded the alarm over shortages, with Sao Paulo’s health secretary saying this week that the city’s ability to treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients was on the brink of collapse.
Despite a drug shortage and 85% of intensive care beds filled, Sao Paulo announced on Friday that it would begin reopening shops and restaurants, saying the number of new hospitalizations had fallen enough to do so safely.
(Reporting by Eduardo Simoes, written by Stephen Eisenhammer, Editing by Bill Berkrot)