Zika virus spreading in South and Central America, may be linked to birth defects in Brazil

If you live in Brazil, officials suggest that it might be best not to get pregnant, due to a mosquito-borne virus that might be causing serious birth defects. And if you are pregnant, use precautions to avoid getting mosquito bites.

Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that causes an illness called Zika fever which consists of fever, rash, joint pain, and red eye. These symptoms are similar to dengue fever. Zika fever symptoms are usually mild, lasting a few days to a few weeks and one in four people may not even show symptoms.

Zika virus is spread by Aedes egypti mosquitoes, the same ones that transmit dengue, yellow fever and chikungunya. The mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus are found throughout the world, which means that outbreaks won’t be limited to where they’ve already occurred in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Countries with past or current evidence of Zika virus transmission as of December 2015

World map showing countries that have reported outbreaks of Zika virus. The countries affected are tropical Africa, in some areas in Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands

Countries with current Zika virus transmission as of December 2015. Courtesy of CDC, http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html.

Local transmission of Zika virus has been occurring in the Americas since 2014. Zika virus was first reported in Columbia in October 2015, the first ever reported cases in that country. In May 2015, local transmission of Zika virus was reported in Brazil and is now occurring in many Brazilian states. Since October 2015 Brazil has seen a drastic increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, a neurological disorder resulting in children born with smaller than normal head sizes and incomplete brain development. More than 2,400 suspected cases of microcephaly have been reported this year in Brazil, compared to 147 last year. There have been 29 potentially related infant deaths that doctors are investigating.

The increase in cases of microcephaly coincided with a rise in the number of cases of Zika virus in Brazil. Most of the affected mothers reported having Zika virus related symptoms during pregnancy. The link was established when the virus was found in a deceased baby born with microcephaly. However, the association between Zika virus and microcephaly is still being investigated.

Women in Brazil are being encouraged to not get pregnant as there is no fix for microcephaly and no treatment for Zika virus, for mom or baby.

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