One big topic of conversation currently swarming around the nation is the Zika virus, an illness spread via mosquitoes. Aside from most commonly being annoyances to people, many of these bloodthirsty insects carry a multitude of diseases, making mosquitoes the deadliest insect on Earth.

While there has yet to be a large outbreak of the Zika virus in the United States, it’s important to be aware of what it is, what the symptoms are, and if you are at risk. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The good news is, this illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from a few days to a week.

Zika2In May 2015, the first confirmed Zika virus infection was declared in Brazil by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the outbreak led to reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes, confirmed by CDC.

Since May 2015, the virus has spread to more than 20 countries in Latin America and continues to spread as more people travel to affected areas. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Public Health emergency of International concern relating to the Zika virus on February 1, 2016, and as of February 3 of 2016, there have been 35 travel-associated Zika virus disease cases reported in the U.S., according to CDC.

The Obama Administration is asking Congress for $1.8 billion in emergency funding to take action toward eliminating and preventing the Zika virus through mosquito control programs, vaccine research, and educating and improving health care for low-income pregnant women, the White House said February 8. Included in Obama’s proposal is $355 million in foreign aid to South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Zika3While a week-old virus may not sound far off from a case of a bad cold or stomach bug, this virus is alarming particularly due to its potential correlation to birth defects and negative health effects on pregnant women. It is not necessarily a detrimental virus if one contracts it, but its health effects on pregnancies down the road can be life-altering, making it important for those who are pregnant or who are considering becoming pregnant to know about it.

Zika virus can spread from a pregnant woman to her unborn baby. Reports of a serious birth defect of the brain known as microcephaly in babies of mothers who had Zika virus while pregnant are growing. Microcephaly is a birth defect in which the size of a baby’s head is smaller than expected for age and sex. Congenital microcephaly is often a sign of the brain not developing normally during pregnancy, according to CDC. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika at this time, but researchers are working on developing preventatives to combat the virus.

Florida Department of Health (DOH) has a mosquito-borne illness surveillance system and is working with the CDC, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and local county mosquito control boards to ensure that the proper precautions are being taken to protect Florida residents and visitors. There are extra measures people can take to protect themselves from mosquito-borne illnesses, including drawing standing water, covering your skin with repellent and clothing, covering windows with screens, etc. Pregnant and breastfeeding women can use EPA-registered insect repellents.

Zika4Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked the CDC to provide at least 1,000 Zika antibody tests so that Florida can test individuals, particularly pregnant women and new mothers, who have travelled to affected areas and had symptoms of Zika. Florida currently has the capacity to test only 475 people, and these antibody tests allows the state to confirm whether the tested individuals have or have not ever had the Zika virus. In his recent executive order no. 16-29, Scott designated the Florida Department of Health as the lead state agency to coordinate emergency response activities among the various state agencies and local governments.

Even if you aren’t pregnant, aren’t intending to one day become pregnant, or cannot become pregnant, contracting the virus is not fun and is not good for your health. Mosquitoes are drawn to standing water, and Florida is known for its abundance of swamps and wetlands. Even if you don’t live near one, it’s almost impossible to escape mosquitos thanks to the state’s humidity and because mosquitoes thrive in hot weather. Mosquito season begins in the spring when the temperatures rise, and it reaches its peak during the hot summer months.

Zika5The burning question many have is “what good do mosquitoes do for our ecosystem?” And unfortunately, that has yet to be determined. They are primarily known for being disease carriers, and now Zika virus is the latest buzz. As we begin entering spring, there’s no better time than now to take precaution and avoid those pesky mosquitoes.