If you are pregnant and planning to travel to South America bevor delivery, you might want to postpone your travel plans, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.
Several countries in South America have confirmed cases of Zika virus infection. The worst affected area seems to be Brazil, where since October 2015 around 4000 babies have been born with microcephaly or abnormally small heads, which is linked to the Zika virus. As comparison, in 2014 that number was only 150.
So what is Zika virus and should you really be worried about it?
Zika virus is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes, and pregnant women have the same risk as the rest of the population of being infected with the virus. Most infected people don't develop any symptoms and if they do, they are normally very mild such as a slight fever or a rash.
Scientists are currently still researching what effects Zika can have on unborn babies but the Ministry of Health in Brazil managed to establish a relationship between the increase of microcephaly in new-borns and Zika infections.
Microcephaly or 'shrunken brain disease' is an uncommon condition where a new-born's head is abnormally small due to an underdeveloped brain. This can lead to developmental delays, intellectual disability or even death of the baby.
If you are pregnant and spending time in any of the effected countries, especially Brazil, then you definitely have reason to worry because as of now there is neither a vaccine nor a cure for the virus and microcephaly. The only prevention is to not get bitten by a mosquito that carries the virus.
Here are some tips on how to reduce the risk of being bitten by an infected mosquito if you still find yourself in one of the affected areas:
• Protect as much of your skin as possible from exposure by covering it with long sleeves, pants etc.
• Use a high-quality insect repellent containing N, N-diethylmetatoluamide (DEET) on the skin that you don't manage to cover
• If you use sunscreen, then apply the repellent after the sunscreen
• Keep your windows and doors closed to prevent mosquitos from coming in
• Try to stay away from standing water and empty all water buckets and flower pots because the mosquitos lay their eggs in standing water
The Colombian and El Salvadoran governments called for even more drastic measures to prevent pregnant women from getting infected with the virus: Not getting pregnant at all for the next few months...
On a more positive note though, pregnant women living in the UK and not planning to travel to these destinations don't have much reason to worry: The Zika virus does not occur naturally in the UK at all.
However, three UK travellers associated with South America travels have been diagnosed so far.