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Zika Virus Outbreak Linked To Severe Brain Damage In Babies And Sparks Pregnancy Warning From Health Officials

22/01/2016 13:50 GMT | Updated 22/01/2016 15:59 GMT

The sudden outbreak of a rare mosquito-born virus known as Zika, has sparked a warning from El Salvador health officials telling woman to avoid getting pregnant until 2018.

Vice-minister of public health Eduardo Espinoza issued urgent cautionary measures to stop the virus from being passed onto any more children.

Experts have labelled the outbreak as a "pandemic in progress," after witnessing the rise of babies being born with abnormally small heads.

microcephaly

According to Sky News, Espinoza said: "We'd like to suggest to all the women of fertile age that they take steps to plan their pregnancies, and avoid getting pregnant between this year and next."

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The evidence linking the virus to microcephaly, a neurological condition in which a baby's head is underdeveloped, is based on researchers finding the virus in mothers who have been infected with Zika.

So, what is Zika?

zika virus

It belongs to a family of viruses knows as flaviviruses. According to the geneticliteracyproject.org it was first detected in humans in Uganda in 1952. It spreads through the bites of a specific species of mosquito known as Aedes aegypti.

Once bitten, the person carries the virus in the blood for a week, which is the best time to get tests done.

How does it spread?

zika virus

So far, there has only been one report of the virus possibly spreading through blood transfusions and sex. The main known way it is transferred from person to person is through mosquito bites.

Since these mosquitoes are "daytime biters" they are harder to keep at bay with nets.

A growing concern however, is whether Zika can definitely be passed from pregnant women to their children.

This link is still unexplored territory although scientists believe that the spike in newborns with microcephaly provides enough evidence.

It is thought to be passed on during the time of birth, although the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believe this to be a rare condition.

How do you know if you have been infected?

zika virus

While only one in five infected develop symptoms, the CDC in the US have published a list of conditions to look out for.

The most common include: fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes).

Why are people so concerned right now?

zika virus

There has been a sudden spike in the cases of microcephaly. Between 2010 and 2014 only 163 cases were reported in Brazil. However, since October this has rapidly risen to more than 3,000 cases to date.

Adding to this is the fact that we have yet to develop a vaccine to protect us. The only advice to treat the symptoms include:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration
  • Take medicines, such as acetaminophen or paracetamol, to relieve fever and pain
  • Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen, should be avoided until dengue can be ruled out to reduce the risk of hemorrhage. If you are taking medicine for another medical condition, talk to your healthcare provider before taking additional medication.