GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Eight more countries have been added to the list of places where the Zika virus has surfaced. The CDC says Zika virus has been transmitted in at least 22 countries now, including Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, and Puerto Rico. What's the risk to Mississippians?
Eighty percent of people infected with Zika have no symptoms. But the mosquito borne virus can be dangerous to unborn babies.
OB-GYN, Dr. Mike McKay, MD, has been taking care of women and delivering babies for 21 years on the coast. He hasn't seen any cases of Zika virus in his patients yet, but he says people need to take the travel warnings seriously.
"A currently pregnant woman or woman attempting to get pregnant should avoid these travel areas," Dr. McKay said.
That's because the virus has been linked to a startling increase in cases of a rare and devastating neurological condition called Microcephaly in babies.
"Microcephaly means small head," Dr. McKay explained. "When a baby is born with microcephaly, it generally means that the brain did not develop like it should have."
How serious is the problem? In El Salvador, the vice minister of health is recommending that women there try to avoid getting pregnant; not only this year; but next year, too. And while there have been no cases of local infection with Zika in the US so far, some US travelers have been infected abroad.
Therefore, not only is the CDC recommending pregnant women and those attempting to become pregnant postpone travel to those 22 countries affected, they are also recommending women who have traveled to these places during their pregnancy; be screened and monitored for the virus.
"Ultrasound is probably the best way to evaluate the growing baby, so we can look at the head and map out the growth of the head and make sure it stays on a normal curve."
And if you do have to travel to those areas, Dr. McKay says to take precautions.
"Wear long sleeved clothing, avoid being out at dusk and dawn, and use bug spray and try to prevent it."
Again, only a handful of cases so far in the US in people who have traveled to those countries. The closest case to Mississippi was reported Tuesday in Arkansas. To learn more about this virus and the 22 countries currently affected by Zika virus, visit the CDC's website at www.cdc.gov.