Everything You Need to Know About the Zika Virus

The rare disease is on the rise in South America and affecting countless pregnant women.

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When Gabrielle Fouché Williams left Brazil in January to return to the United States, she was four months pregnant with her first child. Williams had been living in Salvador, Brazil, for the last three years. The first few months of her pregnancy were difficult. Her doctor even put her on bed rest. But she expected the physical discomfort. She was having her first child.

She didn’t expect to experience the mental discomfort caused by media reports about the connection between the Zika virus and microcephaly, a birth defect in which a child’s head does not grow to a normal size. By the end of last year, she had made up her mind to return to the U.S. to give birth. 

“I would have panicky moments,” Williams said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, will my baby have microcephaly?’”

In November 2015, just one-and-a-half months into her pregnancy, her doctor told her to start wearing mosquito repellent and long pants to avoid the mosquitoes that carry the virus.

“All the Zika stuff just solidified my decision about returning home,” said Williams, who owns a language consulting firm. “When I started getting messages from my American friends, that is when I really become concerned.”

Williams represents the people who should be the most concerned about Zika: pregnant women. Although it has yet to be scientifically proved, recent reports suggest that the Zika virus can increase a woman’s chances of having a baby with microcephaly. Thankfully, Williams no longer has to worry about the Zika virus in Washington, D.C’s winter weather.

“I feel relieved being here,” Williams said. “It’s cold, but I’m relieved.”

Below is a brief explainer about the virus and its connection to microcephaly. 

What is the Zika virus?

Zika is a virus that is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and transmitted through its bite. It was first detected in 1947 in monkeys in Uganda. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 5 people infected with the Zika virus will display symptoms, most likely experiencing a fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis. Other symptoms include muscle pain and headaches.