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Baby Born in Hawaii With Birth Defects Linked to Zika Virus

The Zika virus is spreading and pregnant women are being urged to avoid traveling to certain countries where the virus is known to be prevalent. Now a baby born in Hawaii has been reported to be the first in the U.S. to be affected by birth defects related to the virus.

So what exactly is the Zika virus and what harm can it cause pregnant women?

It's a tropical virus that has mostly been seen in parts of Latin American countries and the Caribbean. The virus is spread when a mosquito bites an infected person then bites another person. Non-pregnant people are usually just mildly affected by the virus with minor symptoms like a rash, joint pain and fever and usually the symptoms resolve themselves in a week. However, it's a much bigger deal when you're expecting and pass along the virus to your baby in the womb.

Brazil, in particular, has had a recent large outbreak of the Zika virus and has found a significant increase in babies being born with a rare birth defect known as microcephaly. Microcephaly causes the infant to be born with smaller-than-average head which may not have fully developed. This can lead to brain issues, which in turn, can lead to major physical and emotional disabilities.

As a precaution, the CDC has issued a warning to all pregnant women to avoid travel to 14 specific destinations in Latin America and the Caribbean: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

As for the baby born in Hawaii, the State Department of Health issued a statement proclaiming "The mother likely had Zika infection when she was residing in Brazil in May 2015 and her newborn acquired the infection in the womb. Neither the baby nor the mother are infectious, and there was never a risk of transmission in Hawaii."

While the Hawaii baby may be the first one born in the U.S., other cases in of pregnant woman with the Zika virus in the U.S. are popping up. On Tuesday, Illinois state officials reported two pregnant women testing positive for the virus and say they are closely monitoring their health as well as the health of their babies. Other cases were reported in Florida and Texas as well.

UPDATE: There are now more than a dozen cases reported in the U.S. and the CDC has added eight more countries to the list of places pregnant women should avoid traveling to: Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Guyana, Cape Verde, and Samoa.

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Photograph by: Lourdes Garica-Navarro/NPR

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