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Health expert weighs in on Zika cases in South Florida

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An individual can contract Zika when an infected mosquito bites them.

As more cases of pregnant women with Zika virus are confirmed in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new guidelines for pregnant women who have traveled to countries where the mosquito-borne virus is spreading. More than 3,500 cases of microcephaly have been reported in the South American country, and 46 babies have died, according to reports.

In Brazil, the number of infants born with a rare brain defect known as microcephaly has continued to increase: 3,893 new cases have been identified since health officials began investigating in October and officials have said that they are convinced the flood of new cases are linked to an outbreak of Zika.

The tropical virus has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect in which the head is smaller than normal - and the brain may not have developed properly.

Yesterday, the Brazilian city of Piracicaba said it would expand the use of genetically modified mosquitoes to fight Aedes aegypti, the species that spreads dengue and chikungunya as well as the Zika virus.

Texas and Hawaii also have confirmed cases, including a baby born with a birth defect.

"The mother likely had Zika infection when she was residing in Brazil in May 2015 and her newborn acquired the infection in the womb".

"We are the second country in Latin America after Brazil in the number of reported cases", said Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria.

Zika virus is common in parts of Africa and South East Asia, but since 2007 there have been various outbreaks outside of the disease's comfort zone. Researchers at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal are in Brazil to train local researchers to combat the Zika virus epidemic.

Pregnant women and those who are thinking about becoming pregnant "who must travel to one of these areas should talk with their doctor first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during their trip", said Lyle Petersen, MD, MPH, the director of the CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases.

Symptoms include fever, rash, muscle aches or conjunctivitis (pink eye) during or within two weeks of their travel to any of those locations.

The CDC said areas pregnant women should not travel include Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

The agency on January 19 added care guidelines for pregnant women traveling to the same areas, including treatment advice for women confirmed to have Zika.

"We expect an expansion similar to what we had with the chikungunya virus previous year, to finish with between 600,000 to 700,000 cases", he said.

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