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News and fear about the Zika virus are spreading faster than the illness itself, but pregnant women should concentrate on staying informed and not panic, said an Upstate doctor.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that typically causes mild symptoms such as fever and rash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, recent reports have linked the virus to mircrocephaly (small head size) in infants as well as other pregnancy problems.

Bill Kelly, an infectious disease specialist and the hospital epidemiologist for Greenville Health System, said there is still much to learn about the Zika virus’ connection to birth defects and pregnancy complications.

“The CDC has recommended that pregnant women consider not traveling to affected areas while they are pregnant,” Kelly said. “I think that’s pretty good advice given that it seems to be spreading quickly.”

Areas where active transmission has been noted include some areas of South America, Central America, Mexico, Haiti, the U.S. Virgin Islands, some Pacific islands and more. The most up-to-date tracking information is available at http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html.

Kelly said women should weigh the importance of the travel and whether or not it can wait. Currently, knowledge about the spread of the virus and its impact on babies is evolving rapidly.

“Some of this will be clearer as people do more research,” he said. “It’s really only in the last couple of months that this association was recognized.”

The virus was first detected in Africa 60 or 70 years ago, Kelly said.

“It’s still not clear how strong the link (with microcephaly) is and if it is causative,” he said.

The risk in the Upstate is extremely low, Kelly said, but he advises women to be proactive about protecting themselves as the weather warms up.

“I would say the same precautions you take for mosquitos every summer should be no less because of this,” he said.

Women who are pregnant or who are considering pregnancy should stay informed and keep the risk in perspective.

“I would encourage people to have a wait-and-see attitude,” he said. “The story is not well known yet. Avoid getting overly concerned. It would fall under the heading of just maintaining your good health in pregnancy.”

Avoiding mosquitoes

To avoid mosquito bites, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of an insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, PMD or IR3535. Always follow directions for application and ask your doctor which brand is right for you. Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and hats. Some clothing is available pretreated with insect repellant. Stay and sleep in screened or air-conditioned rooms. Use a bed net if the area where you are sleeping is exposed to the outdoors.

For additional information visit http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/avoid-bug-bites, http://www.cdc.gov/westnile/faq/repellent.html and http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html.

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