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Zika Virus Has Landed in Los Angeles

Photograph by Twenty20

The first known case of Zika virus in Los Angeles has been confirmed. The adolescent girl traveled to El Salvador last November, when she was bitten by a mosquito infected with the virus. According to public health officials, the girl has since recovered.

Zika virus, which has long been around in African and Asian countries, and most recently several Caribbean and South American nations, has finally made its way Stateside, with cases popping up in Texas, Florida, Illinois, Virginia and Arkansas.

For most adults, contracting the virus wouldn't a big deal and they'd most likely feel back to normal within a few days. But for pregnant women, the consequences can be far more dire.

Since the spread of Zika virus in Brazil, a link between infected moms-to-be and serious birth defects in their babies has been found. In the most severe cases, babies are being born with a rare condition known as microcephaly, which involves incomplete brain development.

As a result, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that all pregnant women not travel to certain countries where the virus is known to be prevalent, including the recent additions of the United States Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic.

And in case you were planning on traveling to one of these countries for a babymoon, many airline and cruise companies are now allowing pregnant women to cancel or change their travel plans to these countries free of charge.

UPDATE: Since this story was originally published, the World Health Organization has said that the Zika virus is "spreading explosively." The W.H.O. are meeting about it next week, with plans to declare it a global emergency.

Here are 10 things you need to know about the Zika virus:

1. The Zika virus is related to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile virus. While it's been around in Asia and Africa for a while, it's only recently spread to the Western Hemisphere after an outbreak occurred in Brazil.

2. The virus is spread when a mosquito bites an actively infected person, then bites another person after that. There has been one reported case of it being spread through sex and and another case of it being spread through a blood transfusion, which scientists are still researching.

3. The only real presently known danger is to pregnant women and their unborn babies, as the virus has been shown to pass onto unborn fetuses, causing a serious birth defect known as microcephaly. After the outbreak of Zika in Brazil, they noticed a huge increase in the number of infants being born with this condition, nearly 4,000, when the national average prior to the outbreak was 450 and a connection was made.

4. The most dangerous time for a pregnant woman to be infected is during her first trimester.

5. It's not that big of a deal in the U.S. yet, despite reported cases of people testing positive for the virus around the country. According to Dr. Anne Schuchat of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "For the average American who is not traveling, this is not a problem." It's winter in the States and mosquitoes aren't normally out during this time of year.

"You can say that there really is essentially no risk at all [now] because we don't have local Zika transmission in the United States," says Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

6. There are no obvious symptoms for people infected with the virus, and they usually just resolve themselves—hence, screening for it would be difficult. Experts say about 80 percent of people who have it don't even know it.

7. The only way to protect yourself against Zika virus at this point is to avoid travel to the 24 countries listed on the CDC's website: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Guyana, Cape Verde and Samoa.

8. Women in highly affected countries like Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador and Honduras have been warned to not get pregnant until 2018.

9. Researchers are working hard to create a vaccine for Zika virus—although it most likely won't be ready for a year. Clinical trials could start sooner.

10. As of today, 31 people have been diagnosed with Zika virus in the United States, including one pregnant woman in New York. Health officials note that most likely all of these people contracted it outside of the States.

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