Zika virus: Five things to know now
Heartbreaking: The Zika virus has been blamed for causing severe brain damage to newborn babies. Pictured, Estafany Perreira holds her five-month-old nephew David Henrique Ferreira, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil

The previously little-known virus that re-emerged in Brazil in 2015 has now shown itself to be a possible threat to the continental United States. 

The World Health Organization has warned that the mosquito-borne virus is almost guaranteed to infiltrate every country and territory in the Americas - including the U.S. (See below.)

Previously, the CDC confirmed that a baby born in Hawaii with an unusually small head contracted the Zika virus while in utero. The mother most likely had the infection while she was residing in Brazil. Authorities there have taken the unusual step of warning women against getting pregnant while the Aedes mosquito is a threat.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has issued a warning about traveling to 13 South American countries, especially women who are pregnant. Three women in Florida have already contracted the virus. All three cases are confirmed to be non-pregnant women who had traveled to either Colombia or Venezuela. 

Here are five things to know about the virus:

1. What is Zika?

It was first isolated in 1947 and is named for a forest in Uganda. The Zika virus has similar symptoms to dengue and chikungunya — rash, joint pain, fever. Like those syndromes, Zika is mosquito-borne. The virus is also linked to microcephaly, an abnormal smallness of the head in infants, and so Zika is especially dangerous for pregnant women.

2. Has it spread to the United States?

Yes. There are three women in Florida who’ve contracted it — none are pregnant. However, according to Vox, there’s been one “Zika birth” in the U.S. so far. Hawaii’s Department of Health has confirmed a baby born there with microcephaly tested positive for Zika virus, though the mother contracted Zika while living in Brazil, not in the U.S. Two other pregnant women, both in Illinois, have also contracted Zika.

3. Could it spread further?

Yes. Scott Weaver with the Institute of Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas, told Vox: “It’s going to be knocking on the doorstep in places like Florida and Texas, probably in the spring and summer.”

4. Is the continental U.S. in danger?

Yes. The World Health Organization has warned that the virus is projected to spread across the Americas into every country and territory where the Aedes mosquitos are found. That includes the United States. Scientists are looking into whether the virus can be sexually transmitted between partners. 

5. What can I do?

The Pan American Health Organization released the following recommendations for stymieing the spread of Zika virus:

  • Mosquito populations should be reduced and controlled by eliminating breeding sites. Containers that can hold even small amounts of water where mosquitoes can breed, such as buckets, flower pots or tires, should be emptied, cleaned or covered to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in them. This will also help to control dengue and chikungunya, which are also transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes. Other measures include using larvicide to treat standing waters.
  • All people living in or visiting areas with Aedes mosquitoes should protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellent; wearing clothes (preferably light-colored) that cover as much of the body as possible; using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows; and sleeping under mosquito nets, especially during the day when Aedes mosquitoes are most active.
  • Pregnant women should be especially careful to avoid mosquito bites. Although Zika typically causes only mild symptoms, outbreaks in Brazil have coincided with a marked increase in microcephaly—or unusually small head size—in newborns. Women planning to travel to areas where Zika is circulating should consult a healthcare provider before traveling and upon return. Women who believe they have been exposed to Zika virus should consult with their healthcare provider for close monitoring of their pregnancy. Any decision to defer pregnancy is an individual one between a woman, her partner and her healthcare provider
 
 
 
 
By Jamie Rivera 01/26/2016 11:48:00

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