When Will The Zika Virus Reach America? The Mosquito-Borne Illness Appears To Be Traveling North

A virus spread by mosquitoes has been making headlines recently due to a major outbreak in Brazil. The affliction is closely related to and mimics the symptoms of other mosquito born viruses, including dengue fever and chikungunya. It may very well spread up South America and into North America. But when will the Zika virus reach America? The World Health Organization's Pan American Health Organization, which oversees the region, has warned that countries across North and South America should prepare for the worst, unfortunately.

Dr. Marco Espinal, the Director of PAHO/WHO's Department of Communicable Diseases, is urging other countries to prepare for Zika's spread by equipping themselves with the proper supplies and specialists to treat the virus, as there is currently no vaccine or cure:

Like chikungunya, Zika is a new virus that the population of the Americas has no immunity to. It has already spread to 17 countries in our region, and the rest should be prepared for its further spread.

Just one in five who contract Zika virus after being bit by an infected Aedes mosquito — a common breed found in all countries but Canada and Chile — will exhibit symptoms. Symptoms of Zika virus include muscle and joint pain, fever, rash, and red eyes lasting from a few days up to a week. Sadly, Zika virus can be spread from one infected person to another, though the virus lives in the blood stream for just a few days on average. Sexual contact may also reportedly spread Zika, as it has been confirmed to be detected in the semen of an infected person.

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Already, there have been cases reported in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and California. Fourteen cases total were reported in the U.S. between from 2007 to 2014. The virus is rarely fatal as are severe symptoms that result in hospitalization. What has been truly unsettling is the potential impact that Zika virus has had on unborn children: An alarming uptick in cases of microcephaly — an abnormally small skull — in babies whose mothers were infected with the virus has been reported in Brazil.

Nearly 4,000 cases were documented from November to now, which is over 27 times more than the amount of cases reported throughout the entire year of 2014. Rare reports of babies being born with Guillain-Barré syndrome syndrome have also been documented. Symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome syndrome include muscle weakness, pins and needle sensations, and difficulty breathing. It's unclear when Zika virus will spread in the United States nor how rapidly it will do so. Still, expectant mothers are certainly following its spread in the news and hoping for the best.