What You Need To Know About The Zika Virus

By: Mindy Weisberger
Published: 12/16/2015 10:51 AM EST on LiveScience

Infections with Zika virus, which is carried by mosquitos, are on the rise across the Americas, raising concerns among health officials. Although the virus is generally not life-threatening, evidence suggests that it may be responsible for recent increases in birth defects in Brazil and French Polynesia, where infections are more common.

On Thursday (Dec. 10), officials in Panama announced the country’s first case of locally acquired Zika virus — meaning that a person caught the disease from a mosquito in that country, rather than while traveling elsewhere — raising the number of countries in the Americas with reported cases of Zika infections to 10.

Previously, on Dec. 1, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) had issued an alert about the virus. At that time, cases were reported in Brazil, Chile (on Easter Island), Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela.

The Zika virus is a relative of the viruses that cause dengue fever, yellow fever and West Nile infections. Symptoms of Zika, as the infection is called, include fever, rash and joint pain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The symptoms typically appear about three to seven days after a bite from an infected mosquito, and last up to a week. Currently, there is no vaccine for Zika, although those infected by the virus can be treated to relieve its symptoms.

Infections are transmitted to people through bites from infected Aedes mosquitos, a genus of mosquitos that includes several species that also carry other viruses that are closely related to Zika. The mosquito species Aedes aegypti andAedes albopictus are two of the main carriers of Zika, and live on every continent except Antarctica. [Tiny & Nasty: Images of Things That Make Us Sick]

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