Zika virus — what you need to know now

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By Gabriela DeAlmeida

Media coverage has been buzzing with articles about the Zika Virus, which the World Health Organization flagged as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in a statement on Monday, following several reported cases of a birth defect linked to the virus.

Zika virus, transmitted through the bite of Aedes aegypti mosquitos, has been linked to several cases—in Brazil and other Latin American countries—of microcephaly, which causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped or damaged brains.

Experts in the WHO agree that a relationship between women infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy and children born with microcephaly is “strongly suspected, though not yet scientifically proven.”

The good news is, now that Zika has been declared a global health emergency, preventative action and research funding from governments and non-profits around the world will go into full-force.

A New York Times article suggests women in areas with Zika outbreaks should delay pregnancy for a couple years, or at least until a vaccine for the virus becomes available.

Pregnant women should avoid traveling to these regions, or cover up and use insect repellant to prevent mosquito bites.

The first case of sexually-transmitted Zika virus in the United States was reported by health officials in Dallas earlier this week, according to the article. Experts say pregnant women should use condoms with male sexual partners who have travelled to at-risk regions recently.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the virus is usually mild. The symptoms of Zika include joint pain, rash, red eyes and fever and generally last several days to a week. Typically, one in five people infected with the virus actually become ill, hospitalization is uncommon, and the virus isn’t fatal.

Although it may seem like this virus is the latest disease meant to wipe out the human race, like the plot of so many apocalyptic horror movies, the risk of contracting Zika is low. In the meantime, stocking up on bug spray may not be a bad idea.

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