If you plan on taking a camping trip this summer, you may want to educate yourself on the Zika Virus, which is quickly spreading around the world. The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne virus that has currently spread to over 29 countries, according to the World Health Organization. Similar to other mosquito-borne viruses such as yellow fever and west nile, the Zika Virus is a flavivirus.

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Ten-year-old Elison with his 2-month-old brother Jose Wesley, who was born with microcephaly, in Poco Fundo, Brazil. (Felipe Dana/AP Photo)

The most dangerous symptom of the Zika Virus is microcephaly, a neurological disorder that can cause newborn babies to be born with abnormally small heads. This will often cause developmental disorders and result in death. The most common way that the virus is spread is through an infected mosquito. However, isolated cases have also shown that the virus can be spread through sexual contact or blood transmissions. It has not been found yet if mothers can pass the virus to their children via breast milk.

In the past four months, Brazil has reported over 400 cases of newborns being born with microcephaly. Currently states such as Florida, Texas, California, Arkansas, Georgia, Washington DC, Hawaii, New Jersey, Virginia, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Minnesota are reporting patients with the Zika Virus. All of these patients contracted the virus while they were traveling outside of the United States. The Center for Disease Control believes that the number of returning travelers to the United States will return to the country carrying the virus. Many countries in South America are reporting massive outbreaks of the virus, as well as areas of Central America, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Island, and America Samoa.

ZikaMap

Courtesy of The Lancet

There are no vaccinations available for the virus currently. However, there are preventative measures that you can take to protect yourself. The best thing you can do is to prevent yourself from potentially being bitten by the Aedes mosquito, which carries the Zika virus. To prevent being bitten by a mosquito, it is recommended to take the following precautions:

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Insect repellents work by giving off unwanted smell

  • Wear a long sleeved shirt and pants when outside.
  • Stay indoors and run the air conditioner. Use screens on doors and windows to keep mosquitoes out.
  • Use insect repellent as directed.
  • Sleep under mosquito netting if you are outside.
  • Apply sunscreen before using insect repellent.

While the Zika Virus is dangerous, it is especially dangerous for women who are pregnant, or planning on getting pregnant in the near future. Women who are currently pregnant are strongly advised to not travel to any areas where the virus outbreaks are highly likely. Women who are in those areas and get pregnant should be tested during their second trimester for the virus. The virus can stay dormant in the body for up to two years, so even women without symptoms should still get checked.