The World Health Organization just declared Zika virus a “global health emergency.” Just over a month ago, we shared the almost unbelievable news that Brazilian citizens were warned not to get pregnant due to the Zika virus. A mosquito-borne virus, Zika has been linked to a birth defect called microcephaly in the infants of mothers who were infected with Zika during their pregnancy. In the past few weeks, 23 countries and territories in North, Central, and South America have all confirmed cases of Zika, and the CDC is warning women who are pregnant to consider postponing travel to these areas, which include the United States Virgin Islands, Guatemala, Venezuela, and Mexico. As scientists are still trying to determine the transmission details of Zika and the situation is changing daily, women who are trying to become pregnant should also exercise caution when traveling to these areas. Read on after the jump for how to protect yourself and what we know about Zika so far.

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The Zika virus has been around for decades, but it began spreading wildly after arriving in Brazil last year. Symptoms such as a fever, rash, or joint pain are typically mild. Many people infected with Zika do not exhibit symptoms at all. The virus’s ill effects, however, can be dramatic on developing fetuses. The number of cases of infants born with microcephaly, a neurological disorder that can result in a small head, have skyrocketed in Brazil since the Zika outbreak, although scientists have yet to find the definitive link between the two. The effects of microcephaly range from mild to severe with delayed or stunted brain development as a common attribute. Zika is spread by the same type of mosquitoes (the Aedes aegypti) responsible for transmitting tropical diseases such as dengue and yellow fever — that mosquito is also found in South Florida. In addition to direct infection of the virus by mosquito bite, two medical journals also caution that the disease might be spread through semen, which means that the travel ban might eventually be extended to both parents-to-be in an expecting family (as well as those who hope to become parents). Note: Today the first known case of Zika virus transmitted “through sex” was reported in Texas.

RELATED | Brazil Warns Citizens not to Get Pregnant, Due to Mosquito-Borne Virus that Causes Newborn Brain Disorder

If pregnant mamas do need to travel to infected areas (or live in said areas), experts suggest covering skin as much as possible, using insect repellent, sleeping and staying in rooms with mosquito netting, and staying away from or getting rid of areas with standing water (which attracts mosquitoes). Researchers are actively working on a Zika vaccine, but health officials are divided as to how quickly and how much Zika will spread in the United States. In the meantime, pregnant women and those trying to conceive should take precautions. One piece of information that should give relief to those hoping to expand their family in the near future: women who are not pregnant are believed to be able to clear the Zika from their bloodstream if they do get it, without having any effect on future fetuses.

For more information visit the CDC website.

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