Update: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that the species of mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus have now been found in 30 U.S. states. They are requesting expedited funding from Congress to develop a Zika vaccine, which could be ready as early as this fall. Read more here.

The Zika virus was initially identified in South and Central America, with the first case reported in Puerto Rico in December. Recently, concern has been raised due to an increasing association between the virus and birth defects when a pregnant women is infected. Questions are popping up in Minnesota as to what this virus is and how it can be avoided. Brett Hendel-Paterson and Bill Stauffer, both HealthPartners Tropical and Travel Medicine doctors, explain.

What exactly is the Zika virus?

The Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted virus related to Dengue and Yellow Fever. It was discovered in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947 and there have been outbreaks in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. It was most recently recognized in Brazil in May 2015 and has since been found in many countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

How do you know if you have it?

Zika is spread by mosquitoes of the Aedes species, which usually bite during the day. It can also be spread from a pregnant mother to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth, or via sexual intercourse when one partner is infected.

Only about one in five people infected with the virus become symptomatic, usually within two weeks of returning from an area where Zika virus is present. The virus usually causes mild fever, rash, achy muscles or joints, headaches or conjunctivitis (red irritated eyes). The incubation period is three to 12 days, and symptoms usually go away after about a week. The primary concern about the virus has been focused on link between the Zika virus and a broad array of birth defects; however, it has also been associated with several autoimmune disorders.

Is it curable?

There is currently no antiviral medication to treat Zika virus. Treatment is supportive and includes rest, fluids and medications to treat achiness or fever.

Why did the CDC issue a travel warning for pregnant women?

The link between birth defects and Zika virus is relatively new, and scientists are still working to understand it fully. It is out of caution that the CDC recommends pregnant women in any trimester and women trying to become pregnant consider postponing trips to multiple countries.

Is it an issue in Minnesota?

Travel-associated cases have been reported in Minnesota. We have an Aedes Mosquito (Asian Tiger Mosquito) that appears rarely and is capable of transmitting infection, but the risk is considered low. See U.S. areas with Zika cases here.

If I visit a travel medicine clinic, can I still go to these countries?

For most people, the risk of contracting Zika virus while traveling is similar to the risk of Dengue fever or Chikungunya. There is currently no vaccine or medication to prevent Zika virus. The only way to prevent infection is to prevent mosquito bites. Our travel medicine clinic discusses enhanced precautions to avoid insect bites, which prevent all diseases carried by insects. Unfortunately, no option is 100 percent effective. The situation is changing daily. Right now women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant are discouraged from travel to areas known to have Zika virus. At the travel clinic, we will investigate the specific destination and discuss risk of travel as well as avoidance.

Up to date information is available at www.cdc.gov.