Brazil Zika Outbreak Endangering Babies

Zika virus spread to US, more than a million infected globally

If you are planning a trip south of the border anytime soon, you may want to rethink it.

Brazil is experiencing an unprecedented outbreak of the Zika virus, with more than one million infected people by the mosquito-transmitted disease.

What is Zika?

Until 2007, there were only 14 known human cases of the disease, according to Vox Media. Since then the disease has bounced around South America, Africa and the Pacific Islands.

About 1 in 5 people infected with the Zika virus actually become ill, with symptoms typically lasting for several days to a week, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Deaths are rare for those infected. Zika is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito, not from one person to another, except for during pregnancies.

There is no current vaccine or medication available to prevent or treat Zika infections. The only treatment is rest, drinking fluids and taking medicines such as acetaminophen or paracetamol (fever reducing medications), the CDC reports.

Most people will at worst get a rash or flu-like symptoms, but Zika poses a significant threat to pregnant women. Brazilian public health officials have found evidence that Zika may be linked to microcephaly, Vox reports.

What is going on in Brazil?

Since October, nearly 4,000 newborns have been born with microcephaly or abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development, according to BBC News. Babies born with microcephaly tend to have a shortened life expectancy and poor brain function. Brazil saw 20 times the normal amount of microcephaly cases in 2015, Vox reports.

The virus has been identified in 19 other countries, now including the US.

What is going on in the US?

On Jan. 15 a baby was born in Oahu, Hawaii, with microcephaly and tested positive for the Zika virus — the first case in the country. The Hawaii state Department of Health said the mother of the child likely contracted the disease while living in Brazil last year. The CDC reported a dozen cases of the Zika virus in the US this week. Accordingly, they have issued a travel advisory for pregnant women, asking them to not travel to the 14 countries that are currently experiencing high rates of infection.

What does it all mean for you?

If you are pregnant it is best to avoid countries that have experienced Zika outbreaks. All those traveling to high-risk areas can help prevent the contraction of the virus by following several practices. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, use EPA-registered insect repellents and stay and sleep in screened-in or air-conditioned rooms, the CDC reports.