KUSA - U.S. officials issued a travel advisory Wednesday following concerns surrounding the Zika Virus, a virus that is spread by mosquitoes that can lead to birth defects in newborns.
Now federal health officials are urging pregnant women to consider postponing travels plans to any area where the Zika virus is circulating, primarily across Latin America
The guidelines released by Center for Disease Control & Prevention came one day after two pregnant women in Illinois contracted the virus. It’s believed they became infected while outside the United States.
Officials said three other people in Florida were also diagnosed with the Zika Virus after returning from a trip overseas in Columbia and Venezuela.
9NEWS Health expert Dr. John Torres said for people who are not pregnant, the virus shouldn’t be a huge cause of concern.
“It’s not a big deal if you’re not pregnant. You’ll see flu-like symptoms: joint pain, maybe a rash, low-grade fever, your eyes may turn red. The after 7-10 days, it will go away.”
The real concern with this virus is for women who are pregnant. Torres said as the rate of the Zika virus increases, so does the rate of a condition called microcephaly, a severe birth defect that causes brain damage and severely small heads in newborn babies.
“In many cases, the newborns with microcephaly don’t survive more than a day or two," Torres said.
Torres said Brazil, an area seeing a skyrocket in cases of the Zika virus, is seeing the highest numbers of newborns with this sort of birth defect. Researchers strongly suspect the two are connected.
“In Brazil in 2014, there were 147 reported cases of microcephaly, then in 2015, over 3,000 cases were reported,” said Torres, “so you can see it’s jumped astronomically and unfortunately, it’s following this pattern as it reaches other parts of the world too.”
Like the common cold, there is no cure or treatment for the Zika virus.
For expectant mothers in Colorado traveling to areas hardest hit with the virus like Jamaica and Brazil, Torres said do whatever you can to protect yourself from mosquitoes.
“If you are traveling, and you’re a woman of child-bearing age- just take precautions while you are out there. Think about the areas you are going to. If you’re in an area with a lot of this going on, considering changing your plans- especially if you’re pregnant.”
Right now, the CDC is working diligently to get the situation under control in 14 countries and territories seeing a rise in the Zika Virus, including the United States.
In the meantime, Torres said if you’ve traveled to any of the infected areas, pregnant or not, and are seeing symptoms, go see your doctor.
If you haven’t traveled and you aren’t experiencing any symptoms associated with the virus, there is no need for panic or concern.
“This is not a panic situation, this not meant to put a lot of fear out there, this is just something to keep in the back of your mind and realize this is going on,” Torres said.
USA TODAY's Liz Szabo asked experts to get readers up to date on the virus.
Q. What is Zika virus, and how does it spread?
A. Zika virus was first identified in 1947 in Uganda, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For decades, it was considered a minor-league virus, especially compared to major killers such as malaria and dengue. Until recently, Zika was limited to a narrow belt of equatorial Africa and Asia. Zika is spread by the Aedes mosquito. The virus doesn't spread from person to person, like the flu. But mosquitoes who bite an infected person can spread it to their next victims.
Q. What are the symptoms of Zika?
A. Three out of four people infected by Zika have no symptoms, according to the Pan American Health Organization. When Zika does produce symptoms, they're usually mild and can include fever, rash, headaches, joint pain, muscle pain, lack of energy, weakness and pink eye. Symptoms set in three to 12 days after a person is bitten by an infectious mosquito. Symptoms are often mild, lasting two to seven days. Unlike another mosquito-borne infection, dengue fever, Zika doesn't usually cause fatal complications in adults and children.
Q. So why are people concerned?
A. Because the virus has been linked to serious birth defects. Zika virus was first detected in Brazil in May. In October, Brazil's Ministry of Health began receiving reports of an unusually high number of cases of microcephaly, in which babies are born with small heads and incomplete brain development. Brazil has now reported more than 3,500 cases. That's a lot for Brazil, which usually has 100 to 200 microcephaly cases per year. There's no treatment for microcephaly, which is sometimes fatal. At least 38 Brazilian babies have died. Although some children have normal intelligence and development, their heads remain small, according to the Mayo Clinic. Children with microcephaly are at risk for a range of issues: facial distortions, developmental disabilities, short stature, difficulties with balance and coordination, speech problems and seizures.
Zika virus also has been linked to cases of Guillian-Barre, a rare immune system disorder that can cause temporary paralysis.
Q. What treatments or vaccines are available for Zika virus?
A. There are no approved treatments or vaccines for Zika virus, according to the CDC.
Even diagnosing Zika is difficult, because its symptoms can mimic those of other mosquito-borne diseases, and there are no approved tests. The only way to prevent infection is to take the usual steps to avoid mosquito bites, such as staying indoors when visiting an area where the virus is present, as well as wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts and using mosquito repellent. Communities can reduce their risk of Zika by doing their best to eradicate mosquitoes, such as by removing trash that collects standing water, according to a report published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Q. How likely is Zika to come to the USA?
A. Zika already has hit Puerto Rico, which reported its first locally acquired case in December. The virus has moved quickly from South America to the Caribbean andCentral America.
Some researchers speculate Zika might have arrived in South America during the 2014 World Cup Games in Brazil. Because Zika often causes no symptoms, researchers say it's not surprising that the first cases of illness weren't reported in Brazil until the following May.
Brazil is scheduled to host the Olympics this summer, which could give mosquitoes a chance to infect people from around the world.
According to the CDC, "because the Aedes species of mosquitoes that spread Zika virus are found throughout the world, it is likely that outbreaks will spread to new countries."
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