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Zika Virus: Five Things You Need to Know

View of a poster against the Aedes aegypti mosquito on the door
View of a poster against the Aedes aegypti mosquito on the door

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made a frightening announcement on Thursday, May 19: 168 women in the United States and 142 in its territories have tested positive for the Zika virus.While all domestic cases so far have been associated with travel, health officials are warning that the mosquitos carrying the virus will start biting and infecting U.S. residents in the next “month” or so, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Here are five things you need to know about Zika: 

How Is Zika Diagnosed?

“You have to find out if you have Zika with a blood test or urine test,” Dr. Edward McCabe, chief medical officer at the March of Dimes, tells Us Weekly. “If you are pregnant, or have recently traveled to a Zika-affected area, ask your health-care provider for a test.”

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What Are the Symptoms of Zika?

While 80 percent of people infected don’t show any signs, Dr. McCabe says some symptoms include headache, fever, joint or muscle pain, conjunctivitis, rash and vomiting. According to Chicago-based OB/GYN Jessica Shepherd, the symptoms usually last for two to seven days.

Who Is Most at Risk?

Pregnant women should be on high alarm. “Zika infection during pregnancy causes a severe birth defect called microcephaly,” says Dr. McCabe, who describes the condition as an underdeveloped head and damaged brain. Dr. McCabe warns that Zika may also be linked to miscarriage and stillbirth.

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How Can You Protect Yourself?

Dr. Shepherd recommends that you: 

Decrease exposure to those who have traveled to areas affected heavily by the virus, such as Latin America.

Consider using long-term reversible forms of contraception, as Zika can be sexually transmitted.

Regularly wear Environmental Protection Agency–approved repellents, which are proven safe and effective even for pregnant and breast-feeding women.

Choose clothes that cover as much of the body as possible.

For those who live in areas where mosquitoes are prevalent, it is crucial to adapt to the living conditions by installing physical barriers such as window screens.

To limit the increase in mosquitos, make sure that outside areas with water collections are emptied and covered.

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What Do You Do If You are Pregnant and You Have Zika?

Dr. McCabe urges pregnant women with Zika to see a maternal-fetal medicine specialist or an infectious disease specialist. He adds: “Your health-care provider may ask that you get more than one ultrasound throughout pregnancy to check your baby for signs of microcephaly or other health problems.”