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Explainer: The Zika virus

In the second half of 2015, authorities recorded over 3,000 cases of microcephaly in infants in Brazil.Mario Tama/Getty Images

In the second half of 2015, authorities recorded over 3,000 cases of microcephaly in infants in Brazil.

The Zika virus will likely spread to all but two countries in North, Central and South America, the World Health Organization just announced.

This after the government of El Salvador urging women to avoid getting pregnant until 2018. The virus has affected thousands of babies in Brazil, causing the number of newborns born with microcephaly — a birth defect which causes babies to have unusually small heads and abnormal brain development — to skyrocket.

Federal health officials added the United States Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic to a list of countries where pregnant women, or women trying to get pregnant, should avoid traveling to.

At present there are 24 countries on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of countries with active virus transmission — 22 of these are located in the Americas.

Here are the vital questions revolving around the mosquito-borne virus you need to focus on:

What is Zika, and am I at risk?

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus related to yellow fever, West Nile, and dengue fever.

Mosquitos from the Aedes species — commonly found in hotter parts of the country like Florida and Hawaii — carry the virus. The Tiger mosquito, which can be found in New York during the summertime, does too.

JAN. 18, 2016 PHOTOAndre Penner/AP

Mosquitos from the Aedes species, commonly found in Florida and Hawaii, carry the virus.

Cases of the Zika virus have been previously reported in Africa, the Pacific Islands, and Southeast Asia, but the first confirmed case in the Western hemisphere was reported in May 2015.

Anybody who travels to a country, or lives in the a country, where the virus is found is at risk for infection, according to the CDC.

The three New Yorkers who tested positive for the virus contracted it abroad — one has fully recovered, and the other two are expected to recover without complication.

“There is virtually no risk of acquiring Zika virus in New York State at this time,” the Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said Saturday.

“The virus cannot be spread by casual contact with an infected person and mosquitoes are not active in cold winter months,” he said.

The CDC released this algorithm for pregnant women that have had a history of travel to areas exposed to the Zika virus.CDC

The CDC released this algorithm for pregnant women that have had a history of travel to areas exposed to the Zika virus.

What are the symptoms?

Approximately one in five people infected with the Zika virus will develop symptoms — which include high fever, joint and muscle aches, rash, conjunctivitis, and headaches, according to the CDC.

Until recently, symptoms of the virus were considerably mild, so it was not considered a major threat.

The Brazilian babies with deformed heads, whose photos have dominated headlines in recent weeks, are suffering from microcephaly as an indirect result of the Zika virus.

For perspective: previously, 1-2 cases of microcephaly were recorded for every 10,000 births. During the second half of 2015, 3,000 suspected cases were recorded — that’s 20 cases in 10,000.

Researchers are still studying the link between Zika and microcephaly. In the meantime, they have warned pregnant women or women trying to get pregnant to avoid traveling to affected areas.

Another possible indirect consequence of the Zika virus is developing the Guillain-Barre syndrome.

GBS is a disorder where a person’s immune system causes harm to its nerve cells — resulting in muscle weakness and potentially paralysis, according to the CDC.

A full recovery is expected in most cases though some deaths have been reported.

An uptick in diagnoses of GBS in Brazil, which correlate with the outbreak of the Zika virus, has caused the CDC to investigate whether a relationship exists between the two.

There is currently no vaccine or medication available for Zika sufferers.Leo Correa/AP

There is currently no vaccine or medication available for Zika sufferers.

What does treatment involve?

There is currently no vaccine or medication available for Zika sufferers.

The CDC have advised those affected to keep well hydrated, get plenty of rest and to use acetaminophen or paracetamol as a pain reliever — not aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which should be avoided until the dengue virus has been ruled out.

If you have contracted the Zika virus, avoid mosquitos in the first week of illness. Infecting previously uninfected mosquitoes could potentially pass the virus onto others.

mnewman@nydailynews.com

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zika virus ,
world health organization ,
virgin islands ,
dominican republic ,
explainers ,
centers for disease control

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