Updated: January 27, 2016
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health officials continue to monitor an ongoing outbreak of a tropical virus linked to birth defects in babies.
Health agencies are warning pregnant women and women trying to get pregnant to avoid travel to South American countries where the mosquito-borne Zika virus has been causing thousands of cases of brain damage in babies. The outbreak also seems to be linked to an increase in Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS).
Zika is spread by mosquitoes that are aggressive daytime biters, and live indoors and outdoors near people. Without any vaccine or medicine available for the virus, prevention of bites is the only way to avoid infection. The same mosquitoes also carry chikungunya and dengue fever.
While the virus has devastating effects on unborn children, those infected with the virus tend to have mild symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. Other commonly reported symptoms include muscle pain, headache, and pain behind the eyes. Some travelers won't start feeling sick until they've returned home.
The disease causes unusually small heads in babies, a condition called microcephaly, which is linked to developmental delays and even death.
Along with the risk of birth defects, the disease seems to be linked to a surge in GBS, which is condition in which a person's immune system attacks part of the nervous system. Some patients are unable to move and dependent on life support.
Women who are in any stage of their pregnancy or trying to get pregnant should avoid traveling to the following countries: Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Guyana, Cape Verde, Samoa, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, United States Virgin Islands, and Dominican Republic
Women who must travel to these areas should talk with their doctor or other healthcare professional and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites.
For more information, visit the CDC website.