You've probably been hearing all about the formidable Zika virus lately. But what is it? And should you be freaking out and living in a self-imposed quarantine? Here are 6 things you need to know about the Zika virus, especially if you're pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant any time soon.
1. . It's new to us.
The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in the Zika forest, located in Uganda. While it's common in African and Asian countries, no cases were documented in the Western Hemisphere until an outbreak in Brazil last year. Because the virus is new to this side of the world, we haven't had a chance to build up an immunity to it, which experts think is why it's spreading so quickly.
The Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes, but only one specific kind - the Aedes species, which aren't common in the U.S. (except in Florida - sorry Florida) and bite during the day. There's also been a few reports of the virus being spread through other means: there was one case of transmission via blood transfusion and one instance where it was spread through sex. There's also been a case where the virus was found in semen, which has experts worried that, at some point, the infection could become transmitted through sex more frequently. Still, mosquitoes should be your biggest concern right now.
3. . Cases have been reported in 22 countries so far.
And that number is only growing. Brazil has been trying to fend off outbreaks since May of last year; other countries with reported cases are Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Guatemala. For a full list of countries that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an alert for, see here.
4. . It's expected to spread.
Even though the only people in the US who have the virus contracted it while traveling abroad, the Pan American Health Organization expects that it will spread to every country in the Americas, except Canada and continental Chile.
5. . If you're pregnant, you need to be extra careful.
Pregnant women - take heed. Infection in pregnant women has been linked to microcephaly, which causes brain damage and the development of small heads in newborns, The New York Times reports. reports. Before now, Zika wasn't linked to birth defects, and that's what got everyone up in arms. To be on the safe side, the CDCadvises pregnant women to reconsider travel to countries in the Caribbean and Latin America where the virus is spreading (see a pretty detailed list from the CDC here). Some countries like are even warning women to put off getting pregnant altogether until this whole thing is under control.
6. . Symptoms are pretty mild.
Only one in five people infected with the virus even develop symptoms, The New York Times reports. These symptoms can include a mild fever, rash, joint pain, headaches, and red eyes. Hospitlization usually isn't required, and the symptoms tend to pass within a week or so. There is no cure; if you contract the Zika virus, you treat it the way you would a bad cold - with lots of rest and proper nourishment. Still, if you think you may have been exposed to the vrius, get to a doctor ASAP.