Zika virus threatens neighbors to the south

While many Americans have never heard of the Zika virus, countries in Central and South America are struggling to contain and stop the spreading of this disease. The World Health Organization expects the virus to spread to other countries, including the United States. So here’s what you need to know:

· Brazil has had the largest Zika outbreak with over a million people infected.

· Common symptoms include rash, headaches, joint pain and fever. Symptoms typically appear three to 12 days after the initial mosquito bites and go away within a week. Due to the mild symptoms, people are rarely hospitalized or die.

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Zika virus starts a scare across North America as it outbreaks in Central and South America. Photo credit: Jacquelyn Elias

· The virus has spread to 20 other countries in South and Central America and the Caribbean.

· The Zika virus is mainly spread through mosquitos. However, it can also be spread through sexual intercourse or blood, most notably from mother to fetus.

· Researchers have found that there may be a link between Zika and birth defects in newborns, in addition to neurological issues in adults. Brazil has seen an increase in the number of babies born with microcephaly, a condition that is associated with a small head and incomplete brain development. In 2015, there were 3,500 cases of microcephaly reported in Brazil, which is 20 times more than normal.

· The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel alert that warned women of childbearing age to avoid traveling to countries where the virus has been circulating.

· Countries that are experiencing Zika outbreaks have advised women to avoid getting pregnant for up to two years.

· There is no vaccine or medication to prevent Zika. The only thing that people can do is wear mosquito repellent, wear long sleeves and pants and use mosquito screens when traveling to countries where there have been reported cases. A full list of countries that the CDC issued travel guidance for can be found here.

· Current and past cases of the Zika virus in the United States were linked to travel in South America.

· Officials are predicting that there will be an outbreak in the United States, most likely beginning in states like Florida and Texas, due to the close proximity to countries like Mexico and Puerto Rico that have experienced outbreaks.

· You will hear more about Zika in the coming months. Warm weather means that the mosquitos carrying the virus will increase their distribution.

· The Olympic and Paralympic venues will be inspected daily during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The Rio Games will take place during August and September, which are the winter months in Brazil; the climate will be drier and cooler. This will significantly lower the number of mosquitos and the chance that the virus can spread to countries around the globe.

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