The Zika virus is becoming a growing public health concern in the Americas, prompting officials to advise pregnant women and those who are trying to conceive to take precautions to prevent catching the virus that can damage the brains of foetuses.
Health ministers in El Salvador are the latest officials to release warnings about the virus, and have advised women to put off becoming pregnant for the next two years to avoid their unborn babies from developing microcephaly – which stops brains from growing and the head appear shrunken.
The number of cases of microcephaly in Brazil, which is also affected, has risen to 3,893 since October 2015. Currently, there are 96 suspected cases of pregnant women with the virus in El Salvador.
Here is what you need to know about the virus if you are pregnant or planning to travel to affected regions.
What is Zika?
Zika is a virus spread by mosquitos. Symptoms include a mild fever, rash, headaches, joint and muscle pain, weakness, and puss-free conjunctivitis. The signs usually start showing between two to seven days after a mosquito bite. Symptoms then continue for around two to seven days.
For most people, Zika is mild and short-lived, however its affect on babies is what is concerning the authorities and pregnant women.
How is it spread?
Zika is spread by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which can also carry dengue and chikungunya.
It also remains in semen for up to two weeks after a man is infected.
Where am I at risk of catching it?
The largest outbreak of the virus is currently unfolding in Brazil - mainly in the impoverished north - where it has been linked to a surge in birth defects including microcephaly.
The states with the largest number of cases include: Pernambuco, Paraíba, Bahia, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Sergipe, Alagoas, Mato Grosso and Rio de Janeiro, according to the UK Government.
As well as Brazil and El Salvador, countries where Zika has been reported currently include: Barbados, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, Suriname, and Venezuela.
The virus is known to circulate in parts of Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
Battling the zika virus - in pictures
Battling the zika virus - in pictures
A worker of the Salvadorean Ministry of Health fumigates a house in Soyapango, 6 kilometers from San Salvador, El Salvador. Salvadorean authorities have began a three days campaign of fumigation to reduce the presence of the mosquito that transmit the Zika virus.
A Health Ministry employee fumigates a home against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in Soyapango, six km east of San Salvador. Health authorities have issued a national alert against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, because of the link between the Zika virus and microcephaly and Guillain-BarrÈ Syndrome in foetuses.
AFP PHOTO/Marvin RECINOSMarvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images
A pediatric infectologist examines a two-months-old baby, who has microcephaly, on 26 January 2016 in Recife, Brazil.
A woman walks through the fumes as Health Ministry employee fumigate against the Aedes aegypti mosquito to prevent the spread of the Zika virus in Soyapango.
Marvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images
A health ministry employee sprays to eliminate breeding sites of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which transmits diseases such as the dengue, chicunguna and Zica viruses, in a Tegucigalpa cemetery on January 21, 2016. The medical school at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) recommended that women in the country avoid getting pregnant for the time being due to the presence of the Zika virus. If a pregnant woman is infected by the virus, the baby could be born with microcephaly.
AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA
A man walks away from his home with his son as health workers fumigates the Altos del Cerro neighbourhood as part of preventive measures against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases in Soyapango, El Salvador
A three-months-old, who has microcephaly, in Recife, Brazil.
A pregnant woman waits to be attended at the Maternal and Children's Hospital in Tegucigalpa. The medical school at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) recommended that women in the country avoid getting pregnant for the time being due to the presence of the Zika virus. If a pregnant woman is infected by the virus, the baby could be born with microcephaly.
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
Army soldiers apply insect repellent as they prepare for a clean up operation against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is a vector for transmitting the Zika virus in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
AP Photo/Andre Penner
Workers disinfect the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro to fight the spread of the Zika virus
Dr. Vanessa Van Der Linden, the neuro-pediatrician who first recognized the microcephaly crisis in Brazil, measures the head of a 2-month-old baby with microcephaly in Recife
Mother Mylene Helena Ferreira cares for her son David Henrique Ferreira, 5 months, who has microcephaly, on January 25, 2016 in Recife, Brazil. In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants
U.S. women who are pregnant from traveling to many South American countries
In the last four months, authorities have recorded close to 4,000 cases in Brazil in which the mosquito-borne Zika virus may have led to microcephaly in infants.
Dr. Vanessa Van Der Linden, the neuro-pediatrician who first recognized the microcephaly crisis in Brazil, examines a two-month-old baby with microcephaly on January 27, 2016 in Recife, Brazil
Brazil is one of the countries in South America where the Zika virus has taken hold
Health workers fumigating to combat Zika virus in Lima, Peru. The US have already issued a warning urging pregnant women to avoid travel to Latin American countries
Two-month-old Jose Wesley, born with microcephaly in Brazil, is nursed by his brother
How can I protect myself
Mirroring health advice from governments including the US and UK, El Salvador's vice-minister of public health Eduardo Espinoza recently told women who are pregnant to stay covered outdoors to lessen the risk of being bitten by mosquitos – both day and night.
Extra precaution can be taken by treating clothing in insecticide such as permethrin, as well as applying insect repellent over sunscreen.
Health officials recommend not suing sun screen which is sold with insect repellent.
Avoiding and removing what attracts mosquitos can also help, including carbon dioxide, heat and movement.The WHO also recommends ensuring mosquotis do not have a place to breed, but emptying and cleaning out containers that can hold water, such as buckets, flower pots or tyres.
If you are pregnant and have recently travelled to a country where Zika is known to be an issue, or you are planning on doing so, you should contact your obstetrician or midwife
How are officials trying to stop it?
There is currently no cure for Zika. However, Brazil’s Presidet Dilma Rousseff recently announced that Brazil is trying to develop vaccine against the Zika and dengue viruses, also spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.
Meanwhile, El Salvador has launched an anti-mosquito campaign by using special mists.Reuse content