ATLANTA, Ga. -- The mosquito-borne Zika virus is generating panic in Brazil and could be on its way to the United States in 2016.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Zika outbreaks have happened in areas of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Central and South America. The disease typically has symptoms of fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes), but sometimes can require hospitalization in severe cases.
The disease is carried by the Aedes species of mosquitoes which are found throughout the world. The CDC said Puerto Rico reported its first confirmed Zika virus case in December. Locally transmitted Zika hasn't been reported in the contiguous United States, but cases have been reported in returning travelers, the CDC said.
The disease has sparked panic in Brazil over increased numbers of babies born with microcephaly (smaller than expected head size). The CDC said Brazil's Ministry of Health reported the number of microcephaly are 10 times higher than what the country normally sees in a year.
According to Newsweek, an investigation into the rise of microcephaly found that "mothers who had babies with the condition also reported a Zika-like illness early in their pregnancy." Newsweek reported Brazilian health officials have urged women living in areas that have seen an increase in microcephaly to delay pregnancies if at all possible until more investigation can be completed.
The CDC said the association of Zika virus infection and microcehpaly and is still under investigation because some babies with the condition have tested positive for Zika while others have not. The CDC did recommend that any pregnant women traveling to Brazil or Latin America take precautions to avoid mosquito bites to reduce their risk of infection from Zika or other viruses like dengue and chikungunya.
According to Vox.com, "officials are predicting that Zika is likely to follow the same pattern that dengue fever in the United States has - reaching Puerto Rico first, followed by outbreaks in Florida, Gulf Coast states, and maybe Hawaii."