The World Health Organization has predicted the mosquito-borne Zika virus is likely to spread across nearly all countries in the Americas. The virus, symptoms of which include fevers, eye infections and headaches, has been linked to babies being born with microcephaly, an abnormal smallness of the head. There is currently no vaccine or cure for the virus.
Concerns over Zika have led some countries to advise women to avoid becoming pregnant, the BBC reports.
The infection has already been found in 21 countries, including the U.S., where three cases were recently confirmed in New York state, and one baby was born with microcephaly linked to the virus in Hawaii. The cases in New York have been linked to travel to countries experiencing Zika outbreaks, Agence France-Presse reports.
Zika causes only a mild illness in most healthy people, with symptoms including fever, pink eye, headaches, rash and joint pain that can last several days to a week.
But pregnant women who are infected with the virus during their pregnancy can give birth to children with underdeveloped brains, who may have intellectual disabilities for life. In Brazil, there were 2,782 babies born with microcephaly in 2015, compared to 147 in 2014, the New York Times reports.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised women in any stage of pregnancy to delay travel to countries experiencing outbreaks. The CDC has also advised Americans to protect against mosquito bites if they do travel to Latin America or the Caribbean, taking precautions such as wearing long sleeves and pants, and using insect repellent.
While Zika is spread by mosquitos, the Pan American Health Organization, WHO's regional office, has confirmed that the virus has been detected in semen and said that there was "one case of possible person-to-person sexual transmission," but that further evidence was still necessary.
In a statement regarding the virus on Jan. 25, PAHO said it anticipates "that Zika virus will continue to spread and will likely reach all countries and territories of the region where Aedes mosquitoes are found," which includes every country in the region except for Chile and Canada.