Zika virus has been in the news a lot lately. If you are trying to conceive or pregnant, there are a few important things you need to know about the virus.

About Zika

The Zika virus emerged from South America in May 2015, and Brazil was the hardest hit. It is a virus that has affected thousands of babies after their mothers contracted the virus, leading to severe birth defects. The virus has now spread, largely with the agency of returning travelers, to several countries around the world. It is estimated that Zika is now affecting 42 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

Symptoms

Fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (or pink eye) are common symptoms of the virus. These symptoms are usually mild and clear up in a week. It is rare for people showing these symptoms to need hospitalization. However, it is also rare for people carrying the virus to show the symptoms. This calls for caution. Health officials have confirmed that Zika can cause abnormalities of the brain in infants, such as microcephaly (or infants born with small heads).

How it Spreads

The virus is spread by primarily through bites of the Aedes mosquito, the same mosquito that spreads chikungunya and dengue viruses. These mosquitoes lay eggs near and in standing water, and prefer to live indoors near people. Transmission occurs through sexual contact (the virus is present for longer in semen than in blood), through blood transfusions and also from pregnant mother to child. Breastfeeding is not known to transmit the virus from mother to infant.

How to Stay Safe from the Virus

The mosquitoes that spread the virus are active daytime biters. But they also bite at night. If a pregnant woman is bitten by the mosquito, she can transmit the virus to her fetus. As the weather becomes warmer, parents should take steps to protect themselves and their children from mosquito bites. Wearing long sleeve shirts, using mosquito repellants and screens while sleeping are highly recommended. Preventing areas of standing water near your home is also important to prevent these mosquitoes from breeding near you.

Men are carriers of the virus in their semen, and they can pass the virus on through sexual contact. Men who have traveled to areas affected by Zika should avoid sexual contact with pregnant partners throughout the pregnancy.

People should also avoid donating blood for 28 days within their travels to affected areas.

Avoid Traveling to Affected Areas

Travel advisories are out for pregnant women and women trying to conceive. Consider postponing trips to affected areas no matter which trimester you are in. Consult your doctor before traveling, and if you have already been to affected areas, test yourself within two to twelve weeks even if you don’t find any symptoms.

A new map drawn up by Oxford University and the University of Washington, and published in the ELife journal predicts that the virus is likely to spread to a zone of 2 billion people. The map considers areas that are environmentally suitable for the transmission of the virus. U.S.A. has not yet seen an outbreak of the virus, though a large part in the country’s southeast coastline, from Florida to Texas, is highly suitable for transmission.