In Depth

Zika virus: everything you need to know about the disease

Travel warnings issued to pregnant women after outbreak is linked to severe birth defects

Pregnant women in Britain, the US and Australia have been advised to postpone travel to parts of Latin America because of an outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been linked to severe birth defects. 

The disease has been detected in at least 23 countries, including Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the virus is likely to spread even further across the Americas.

What is it?

The virus is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also transmits dengue fever and chikungunya. The first human case was identified in Nigeria in 1954, and outbreaks were later reported in other parts of Africa, south-east Asia, the Pacific Islands and now Latin America.

Symptoms, which are typically mild and only appear in one in four people, include a low-grade fever, joint and muscle pain and conjunctivitis.  

How dangerous is it?

For most people, the infection isn't harmful. However, the disease has been linked to microcephaly, a severe and potentially deadly birth defect which impacts brain development. 

Brazil reports that nearly 4,000 babies were born with the condition in the last four months. "The link hasn't been confirmed, but a small number of babies who died had the virus in their brain and no other explanation for the surge in microcephaly has been suggested," says the BBC.

As a result, officials have urged pregnant women and those planning on becoming pregnant soon to consider postponing travel to any region where Zika outbreaks are ongoing. The WHO provides weekly updates to this list of affected countries.

Is it curable?

There is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available. People in affected areas are urged to avoid mosquito bites by wearing insect repellent and clothing that covers their arms and legs. Authorities have also been clearing areas of stagnant water where mosquitoes breed.

"Until we discover a vaccine, we will need to rely on the population to help us remove the conditions under which the mosquito reproduces," said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.  "In the meantime, we need to provide all the assistance the children [with microcephaly] and their families require."

Infographic by www.statista.com for TheWeek.co.uk

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