Health officials warn pregnant women not to travel to South & Central America and Caribbean

Update: The CDC has expanded Zika Virus alert to include Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Guyana, Cape Verde and Samoa.

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A virus that has been linked to birth defects has been found in multiple pregnant women, including one in Houston.

It’s called the Zika Virus and is spread to people through mosquito bites. Right now, the areas most infected are countries in South and Central America.

It has been known to cause a rare condition in newborns, leaving them with smaller than normal heads. The alarming part is there is no medicine or vaccine for it.

As a mother, Austin resident Elizabeth Giles said hearing of the virus is unnerving. “That sounds scary, because not only are you at risk, but also your unborn (baby) which is even more concerning in ways.”

Dr. Michael Nix is the Perinatal Director at UMC Brackenridge. He said not to panic, there's not an outbreak here, “One person can't give it to another person. It has to come from a mosquito bite from the endemic area where the virus is present,” he said.

Pregnant women who have traveled to infected areas should be tested if they do have symptoms of the disease - such as fever, joint pain, red eyes, or rash within two weeks of travel. Although much can't be done, they can start monitoring the baby's growth. “There is not a way to prevent the disease once you contracted it from spreading to the fetus to the baby or a way to treat the disease or immunize against the disease,” said Dr. Nix.

In Brazil, there have been more than 3500 cases have been reported. Dr. Nix said this is a concern because of the Summer Olympics. “Brazil seems to be the largest area, so there's a big fear for the upcoming Olympics that the Zika Virus is going to be a threat to pregnant woman. Don't travel to endemic areas if you're pregnant at this point, if you can avoid that travel, delay the travel,” he said.

Dr. Nix said if you absolutely have to travel to the infected areas and are pregnant you need to take precautions. “Wear long sleeves, wear long pants, use insect repellant, insect repellant with DEET. Insecticides are safe to use during pregnancy, so if you must travel to one of those areas, do what you can avoid getting bitten by mosquitos.”

The Centers for Disease Control has issued a travel warning for pregnant women to 14 countries where the virus has been found. These include Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

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