Zika virus: What you need to know

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The World Health Organization issued a new warning about the spread of the Zika virus, a disease carried by mosquitoes that can cause birth defects. (WLS)

New steps are being taken to help stop the spread of the Zika virus.

In one Latin American country, they're now urging women to avoid getting pregnant for two years.

The Centers for Disease Control also announced guidelines for evaluating and testing infants in the U.S. The prediction is the virus will continue to spread and possibly hit within the U.S. during warmer months.

The World Health Organization says the Zika virus has been inked to birth defects in babies and paralysis in adults and could spread to almost all countries in the Americas.

"The explosive spread of Zika virus to new geographical areas, with little population immunity, is another cause for concern," said Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization.

"That mosquito is found in every country in the western hemisphere, except for Canada and Chile," said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC New Chief Health and Medical Editor.

With more than a million people infected, Brazil has been hit especially hard. In an effort to show how they're aggressively responding, the Brazilian government posted a video on YouTube showing workers spraying and fighting mosquitos carrying the virus.

According to the CDC, so far only a handful of cases have been identified in the U.S. Doctor Emily Landon, medical director of infection control at the University of Chicago agrees with the warning that the virus will likely spread even locally.

"It's possible we'll see Zika spread to more regular parts (just) like West Nile in the U.S. and Illinois," she said. "We have the right kind of mosquito for it... but there are other viruses (where) that didn't happen... so it's had to tell what's going to happen."

The virus isn't known to spread from person to person. And the symptoms for most people - fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes - are mild and pass without incident.

But the virus could cause life-threatening brain damage in unborn babies, so U.S. officials are urging expecting moms to stay away from countries where there are infections.

"For now, if you're traveling and are pregnant... strongly consider not traveling, take precautions against mosquito bites," Landon said.

Right now, there are no vaccines or drugs to prevent to treat the infection. So if you think you have any of the symptoms, all you can do is ask your doctor to be tested.

The Zika virus is especially a concern to pregnant women because the virus can cause a birth defect called microcephaly.

"Which is to say a child with a damaged, shrunken brain at birth," explained Dr. Brian Johnston, the head of emergency medicine at White Medical Center.

Johnston said non-pregnant people can suffer relatively mild symptoms like a fever, joint and muscle pain, and redness of the eyes.

The WHO warned the Zika virus is troubling to North America because it hasn't been spotted in the area and there's no immunity.

Health officials also said number of mosquitoes are increasing.

"It's in Ecuador and Peru and Central America," Johnston said. "And so it's something that's coming our way and we need to be aware of it."

The Zika virus can only be transmitted through one type of mosquito called the Aedes mosquito. The breed is much more aggressive than mosquitoes Southern Californians typically see.

"They are more aggressive. They will come into a building. They bite during the day. They fly at lower altitudes so children are at greater risk," Johnston explained.

Johnston said there are things you can do to protect yourself from mosquito bites, like wearing long pants and sleeves and eliminating standing water where mosquitoes can breed.

Health officials also urge checking window screens and the seals around windows. If you're traveling to areas where the Zika virus is present, experts recommend using a mosquito net.

KABC-TV contributed to this report.

Related Topics:
healthhealthy livingmosquitozika virusworld health organizationu.s. & world
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