zika virus el salvador.jpg
Photograph: EPA/Oscar Rivera

Latin American health authorities and the World Health Organization are alarmed about the rapid spread of the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects.

Here are some key facts about the virus and the side effects it may cause, according to the UN health organization.

Where does the virus originally come from?

The Zika virus was first detected in 1947 in a monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda. For many decades, the virus lay dormant in monkeys and caused only occasional mild cases in humans.

How does the virus spread?

Zika is transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, which are mainly found in tropical and subtropical regions. It is still not proven if there are direct pathways between humans, for example from mothers to their unborn babies.

What are the symptoms?

The virus usually causes only mild symptoms including fever, rashes, headaches and eye inflammations, similar to dengue fever. A quarter of those who are infected do not show symptoms. However, health experts suspect the virus is related to a sharp increase in babies born with abnormally small heads in Brazil, and in cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes muscle weakness.

How did the virus get to the Americas?

The virus expanded to Micronesia in 2007 and to other Pacific islands in 2013 and 2014, causing large outbreaks. Chilean authorities first reported Zika transmission on the country's Pacific Easter Islands in 2014. The current outbreak in Brazil was first confirmed in May 2015.WHO expects Zika to be spread across all of the Americas eventually by mosquitoes.

What can be done to prevent infections and the spread of Zika?

WHO says people in affected areas should protect themselves by wearing light-coloured clothes covering most of the body, and by using insect repellant and mosquito screens. Women travelling to these regions should consult their doctor beforehand, and should get close medical monitoring if they are pregnant and could have been exposed to Zika. In addition, WHO called for spraying standing waters with larvicide and to remove water containers in order to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds.

What about vaccines and treatment?

There is currently no vaccine and no medication against the virus.

Related stories

Latest news

Trump-style rhetoric is making world more dangerous, Amnesty says

Divisive and "poisonous" language used by politicians such as US President Donald Trump is putting vulnerable populations at risk and making the whole world a more dangerous place, Amnesty International charged on Wednesday.

Canada soon to begin resettling Iraqi refugees, most of them Yezidis

Canada will resettle 1,200 survivors of the Islamic State campaign to target religious minorities in northern Iraq, Canadian officials announced Tuesday. 

Breitbart editor resigns after release of paedophilia comments

Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial editor at the far-right Breitbart news website, resigned Tuesday after the emergence of recordings in which he appears to defend sexual relationships between young boys and older men.

Trump administration opens door for mass deportations

The US Department of Homeland Security laid the groundwork Tuesday for mass deportations of immigrants living illegally in the United States under an executive order by President Donald Trump last month.

Brexit bill: House of Lords says public can change mind on leaving EU

The British public should be able to change their minds on Brexit - just as Prime Minister Theresa May did, the upper chamber of parliament heard Tuesday during a marathon debate on legislation to kick off EU negotiations.

Italian lawmakers, rights activists clash over gay sex club scandal

Gay rights activists and conservative politicians clashed Tuesday after the chief of Italy's anti-discrimination office quit over allegations that money had been authorized for gay sex clubs.

EU countries agree new rules to avoid tax evasion

European Union finance ministers in Brussels on Tuesday reached a political agreement on new rules to ensure that multinational corporations do not declare profits in the countries where they pay the least tax but in the countries where they generate it.

Trump condemns "horrible, painful" anti-Jewish incidents

US President Donald Trump condemned a recent spate of threats against Jewish community targets across the United States, during a visit Tuesday to the newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

FinMin expects Croatia to exit Excessive Deficit Procedure this spring

Finance Minister Zdravko Maric said on Tuesday Croatia could exit the Excessive Deficit Procedure this spring and that it was showing progress in correcting macroeconomic imbalances.

Austria seeks to create jobs, but new EU immigrants need not apply

Austria plans to create 160,000 jobs in the next three years by subsidizing companies, but the project has raised concerns because it effectively excludes people who recently immigrated from other EU countries.

Juncker: Not good for W. Balkans that some in Washington want to water down EU

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday it was not good for Western Balkan countries that some people in the new US administration gave the impression of being against the European Union because those countries needed the prospects of EU membership.

Citizens invited to help create Croatian version of Monopoly

A project to create a Croatian edition of Monopoly, in which citizens can participate by submitting proposals and which could become a souvenir for tourists, was presented at a press conference on Tuesday.

German state approves full-face veil ban

Legislation that bans face veils in select public spaces and situations was agreed by the government of the southeastern German state of Bavaria on Tuesday.

Indian restaurant Gaggan in Bangkok named Asia's best for third year

Bangkok's Indian eatery Gaggan on Tuesday was named the best restaurant in Asia for the third consecutive year by Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.

HGK: 16 Croatian companies to exhibit at IDEX defence exhibition

Sixteen Croatian companies will exhibit their products at the 13th IDEX 2017 defence exhibition in Abu Dhabi, to be held on February 19-23.