(Talk Media News) – The World Heath Organization anticipates that the Zika virus will spread to all but two countries in North, Central and South America.
The virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito, the same mosquitoes that spread the harmful dengue and chikungunya viruses.
While the effects are somewhat benign to most, with a fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes sometimes resulting, it is the effects on the fetus of pregnant women that has health experts worrying.
The virus is suspected of leading to microcephaly, birth defect that causes children to be born with exceptionally small brains, in babies when the mother is infected during pregnancy.
The virus was first spotted as a problem in the Americas in May 2015 in Brazil, and has since spread to 21 countries and territories of the Americas as of 23 January 2016, according to WHO. WHO does not expect the disease to reach Chile or Canada.
In Brazil, as many as 1.5 million people may be infected. In 2014, the country nearly 200 cases of fetal microcephaly and by 2015 there were nearly 3,000 reported cases.
The country decided Tuesday to deploy 220,000 troops for a day next month to spread awareness about the virus.
Health officials in Columbia and El Salvador have advised all women of reproductive age to delay pregnancy until more information is available on the virus.
While out breaks have occurred in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands, officials believe the virus is harming the people of the Americas because it is a new virus that the population of the Americas does not have an immunity to.
There is currently no cure or vaccine to counter the infection.
President Barack Obama met with his health and national security teams on Tuesday to discuss the virus, its potential effects and steps being taken to mitigate its effects.
“The President emphasized the need to accelerate research efforts to make available better diagnostic tests, to develop vaccines and therapeutics, and to ensure that all Americans have information about the Zika virus and steps they can take to better protect themselves from infection,” the White House said in a statement.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued Zika virus travel alerts for pregnant women traveling to the following countries: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Guyana, Cape Verde and Samoa.