You’ve probably already heard about the Zika virus all over the news, which may be causing you to panic. As of now, the new mosquito-borne virus, which is transmitted by the aggressive Aedes aegypti mosquito, has now spread to at least 24 countries, according to CNN.
Because the disease can be passed down to infants while in utero, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning pregnant women against travel to those areas. Female citizens are being told to avoid becoming pregnant, in some cases for up to two years, by health officials. Which sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi movie. The U.S. Defense Department is even offering to relocate their pregnant employees who are living in affected areas.
Here are five things you need to know about the virus:
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1. What actually is the Zika virus?
The Zika virus is a flavivirus, which is part of the same family as yellow fever, West Nile, chikungunya, and dengue. What’s so scary about it is the fact that there is no vaccine or medicine to treat the infection.
Zika can cause a neurological disorder that results in babies being born with abnormally small heads, which is also the cause of severe developmental issues, and even death. As of now, Brazil has seen 4,180 cases of microcephaly in babies born to women who were infected with Zika during their pregnancies. Which means out of the 146 cases in 2014, 51 babies have died.
2. How can be Zika spread?
The virus is transmitted when an Aedes mosquito bites a person with an active infection, and then spreads the virus by biting others. Once someone starts showing symptoms, they become carriers. Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases, stated:
“What we now know is that fetuses can be infected with the virus. That’s not new for infectious diseases, but it is new for this virus.”
Some symptoms include: fever, headache, rash, and pink eye. Another scary fact: 80% of those infected never know they have the disease.
3. Where is the Zika virus right now?
According to the CDC: Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Cape Verde, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Venezuela.
Zika has also arrived in the United States from travelers returning from the infected areas. It is unknown whether or not it will have a significant impact.
4. What can you do to protect yourself against the virus?
Sadly, the only protection against the virus is to avoid traveling to the designated areas. If you do, the CDC advises everyone to use an EPA-approved repellent over sunscreen, wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts thick enough to block a mosquito bite, and sleep in air-conditioned, screened rooms.
Stay safe, everyone.