Why the Zika Virus Outbreak has Pregnant Women on Alert

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Mosquitoes in tropical areas are causing an outbreak of a frightening disease called the Zika virus.

Now, we've never given this virus much attention before, since Zika will only give you mild symptoms, like a fever, rash, and headaches. In fact, most people won't even know they have it. But it's a different story if you're pregnant or planning to become pregnant. The virus may cause a serious birth defect called microcephaly, where a baby's head and brain are much smaller than normal. It can be fatal or cause severe developmental problems.

Now right now, the danger is when you travel. Most experts don't expect Zika to become widespread in the US. But women who are pregnant or trying should not travel to Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, where the virus is spreading. That includes big vacation spots, like Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Some countries have even told citizens to not get pregnant until the outbreak is under control.

If you have to go, use bug spray and reapply it throughout the day and wear long sleeve shirts and pants. Now do this both indoors and outdoors. If a mosquito bites you, the virus can be transmitted to others.

So protect yourself when you come back from your trip, too. If you do get symptoms, be sure to see your doctor, especially if you're pregnant.

If you're expecting and you've already been to one of those areas, also tell your doctor, so she can check on your baby. For WebMD, I'm Dr. Michael Smith.