The outbreak is so bad that El Salvador has asked women to not get pregnant until 2018.
The media has been flooded with news of the Zika virus, an infection spread by Aedes mosquitoes that can lead to severe birth defects in newborns. This pesky mosquito is also known to be the culprit behind the spread of dengue, yellow fever, and other viruses, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the mosquitoes usually pick up the virus from infected people.
There’s currently no treatment or vaccine available for the Zika virus, and it’s been linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped and abnormally small brains. The neurological condition is called microcephaly, and in addition to the abnormally small heads, the condition can lead to developmental delays which can sometimes result in death.
In fact, the virus has led to so many severe birth defects that Latin American governments have urged women to avoid getting pregnant until 2018 — quite a drastic precautionary measure.
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Since Brazil first reported cases of viral transmission in May 2015, the World Health Organization reports that 21 countries and territories of the Americas have since reported cases of the Zika virus. In addition to the recommendation to avoid pregnancy, the CDC has also urged pregnant women to avoid traveling to a long list of countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and El Salvador to name a few.
Unfortunately, since there aren’t any current prevention or treatment methods for the disease, the only way to stay safe is to be adamant about using mosquito repellent and covering exposed skin, officials say.
Symptoms of the virus can last for a few days or up to a week, and include fever, rash, red eyes, and joint pain. However, an unsettling 80 percent of infected people show no symptoms, so it’s crucial to schedule a doctor’s appointment and get a check-up if you’ve recently been in any of the affected countries.
The Zika virus is particularly alarming since it’s spreading at such a rapid rate and doctors and scientists know little about it. Since October, BBC reports that there have been around 3,500 cases of microcephaly in Brazil alone.
"Until November we knew nothing, this has caught us by surprise and we're trying to learn as fast as we can,” Prof Laura Rodrigues, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a fellow of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, told the BBC.
Hopefully scientists and doctors will continue to learn more about the Zika virus and devise a rapid solution for the rapidly spreading threat.