Update as of 27th April 2016:
55 countries and territories report continuing mosquito-borne transmission; for 42 countries this is their first documented Zika virus outbreak. Full report with this link.
Update as of 22nd March 2016:
WHO has declared a global emergency in response to the rapid spread of the Zika virus, and have created a Zika Virus Media Centre. Brazil has also warned pregnant women to stay away from the summer's Olympic games.
Update as of 4th Feb 2016:
Cases of the Zika virus have been reported in countries outside of South America including the US and in Europe. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the virus a global public health emergency and we recommend you take steps to get advice from your doctor if you are concerned. Regular updates are also available on the WHO website.
You will have recently read or heard about the Zika virus which has hit the news. The World Health Organisation (WHO) are warning of likely outbreaks across South America, with evidence of the virus circulating in 18 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Zika virus is carried by the Aedes mosquito which are found across the Americas, except Chile and Canada. The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), a regional arm of WHO, has announced that the Zika Virus is likely to spread across the region where the mosquito is found.
Zika virus is similar to Dengue, a disease also transmitted by mosquitos. The signs are fever, headaches, conjunctivitis, myalgia and a rash. In most cases people affected will have only mild symptoms with one in four people feeling unwell generally for a period of two to seven days.
There is no vaccine for the virus and it is usually treated by relieving the symptoms - rest, drinking water to avoid dehydration and painkillers for headache and fever. To avoid contracting the virus it is recommended that precautions are taken to avoid mosquito bites by covering up, using insect repellents, installing screens on windows and doors and nets with repellents at night. Any standing water should be poured away as stagnant water attracts the mosquito.
The Ministry of Health in Brazil are currently researching the effect of the disease on pregnant women, and their unborn child. There has been a rise in numbers of babies born with microcephaly, a malformation that is linked to contracting the virus during the first trimester of pregnancy. Around 25,000 children are affected every year. Microcephaly is a condition whereby the new-born's head is smaller in circumference than expected. It is associated with convulsions, slow development and feeding problems. The symptoms come in varying degrees and can be life threatening.
PAHO are recommending that countries in the region prepare facilities to be ready for a potential increase in demand for care for neurological syndromes and for prenatal care. There should also be an effort on raising awareness through communications with the public. Countries where Zika might cause a potential problem alongside Brazil include Barbados, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Saint Martin, and Venezuela.
It is recommended that pregnant women visit a doctor regularly throughout their pregnancy and the PAHO has suggested that more testing should be made available across South America.
Expats living in the Americas and particularly Brazil, should visit their doctors if they experience symptoms or are worried about contracting the virus, especially if pregnant. Your medical insurance provider will advise you about health insurance cover and the Zika virus.
This infographic provides full information about Zika virus: