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    Experts: Zika Likely to Spread to Southern U.S.

    They say it's only matter of time before the mosquito-borne disease tied to birth defect is transmitted here

    WebMD News from HealthDay

    By Karen Pallarito

    HealthDay Reporter

    THURSDAY, Jan. 21, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- As cases of the mosquito-borne Zika virus are spreading across central and South America and the Caribbean, experts say it's only a matter of time before the disease, which has been linked to an alarming increase in birth defects in Brazil, is transmitted within the United States.

    "It's not if, it's when," said Mustapha Debboun, director of the mosquito control division at Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services in Houston.

    Travelers to Zika-affected countries will bring the virus back to the United States, he said, "and sooner or later, the mosquitoes will pick up the virus."

    Last Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took the unusual step of warning pregnant women and women who want to become pregnant to avoid travel in 14 countries and territories where Zika transmission is ongoing.

    The list, to date, includes Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

    On Tuesday, the CDC issued interim guidance to doctors on managing pregnant women returning to the United States from areas with Zika transmission. Obstetricians and other health professionals should ask all pregnant women about their recent travels in the affected areas and test for Zika in those with fever, rash, muscle aches or pink eye during or within two weeks of travel, the CDC said.

    The CDC's warning coincides with reports that nearly 3,900 babies in Brazil have been born in the last year with microcephaly, a birth defect resulting in an abnormally small head that can cause developmental issues and even death.

    The Zika virus' impact on unborn babies remains somewhat of a mystery. Studies are underway to assess its association with microcephaly and other poor outcomes, the CDC said.

    Dr. Edward McCabe is senior vice president and chief medical officer of the March of Dimes, a nonprofit group that works to improve the health of mothers and babies. "I think this is concerning. We need to take it seriously," he said.

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