Following the first documented cases of locally-acquired Zika virus in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) is now calling for increased attention on an old problem — women's lack of access to reliable and affordable birth control. Zika can be transmitted sexually and poses the greatest risk to pregnant women and their developing fetuses. So safer sex and contraception are both extremely important for keeping the virus from spreading and, potentially, causing serious health problems. Therefore, as Buzzfeed reports, it makes sense that the CDC would recommend making those things easier to get — by having the government help cover the costs. The CDC report, released today, looked at data from women at risk for unintended pregnancy who are living in states where Zika could potentially spread. It found that, depending on the state, between 12.3% and 34.3% of women aren't using contraception at all. The report also found that fewer than one in three women are using long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) such as the IUD or implant, which are widely regarded as the most effective forms of birth control. Zika prevention measures could include "addressing policies on high device costs and provider reimbursement" alongside things such as making everyone more aware of the full range of options and adding more comprehensive training for providers, the report states. "In the context of Zika preparedness," the report reads, "the full range of contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including LARC, should be readily available and accessible for women who want to avoid or delay pregnancy."
The agency has already been keeping tabs on over 400 pregnant women in the U.S. with possible Zika infections. It has also suggested that women trying to conceive who live in areas with Zika activity should talk to their doctors about the "deeply personal" decision to become pregnant, the risks of Zika, and ways to prevent it. And just yesterday, the CDC released an unprecedented advisory warning pregnant women to stay away from an area in Florida due to the risk for Zika transmission. Although access to birth control isn't a new issue, the threat of Zika is certainly adding to its urgency.