While the mosquitoes that carry the virus from human to human live in tropical areas around the world, the virus is just now beginning to pop up in the Americas, according to the CDC. Photo by Kitsadakron_Photography/Shutterstock
ATLANTA, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- Puerto Rico has confirmed its first case of Zika virus, a mosquito-borne virus carried by the same species as dengue and chikungunya, though the source has yet to be identified, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The virus was identified in the Zika forest in Uganda in 1947 and is spread when mosquitoes bite an infected person. Outbreaks of Zika virus have happened in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Island, and the virus has been reported in the Americas in recent years. There is no vaccine or medicine to treat infection.
Doctors and public officials in Puerto Rico, as well as countries that already have outbreaks of Zika virus, are stressing people avoid mosquito bites as much as possible and report symptoms that sound similar to Zika or other mosquito-borne viruses as soon as possible.
Researchers in Brazil also are investigating a link between the virus, which has been reported there, and a high number of infants born recently with small heads.
"There is no reason for alarm," Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico's representative in the U.S. Congress, said in a press release, "and the public should continue to take common sense steps to avoid mosquito bites, like using repellent and wearing long pants and shirts."
CDC experts will be sent to Puerto Rico in early January to educate physicians and the public about the little-known virus in hopes of helping to prevent it's spread, if not treat it, Pierluisi said.
Symptoms of Zika virus appear between three and 12 days after a bit and include fever, rash, headache, and joint pain.
While the virus has been spotted in 14 countries, according to the Pan-American Health Organization, most attention has been paid to Brazil, which has linked the virus to an epidemic of microcephaly. Babies born with the condition has smaller-than-normal heads because of abnormal brain growth, causing neurological and developmental problems, and eventually early death.
Officials in Brazil are urging women not to become pregnant, and monitoring pregnant women closely for the disease as there have been at least 2,782 cases this year, compared to 147 in 2014 and 167 in 2013, reported the New York Times.