Since the outbreak of Zika virus has become a global public health crisis, mosquitoes in the United States are no longer just a nuisance. The disease can result in mild symptoms, but for some people, the virus presents serious consequences. The virus is already prevalent in many Latin and South American countries, so it’s important to protect yourself and prevent the continued spread of Zika into other areas, especially during warmer weather, when mosquitoes are most active. What is the Zika virus? Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that was originally discovered in Ugandan monkeys in 1947. Since May 2015, the virus has spread rapidly across the Americas and is particularly concentrated in Brazil. In February 2016, the World Health Organization declared the virus a public health emergency of international concern because of the harmful effects it can have on unborn babies. What are symptoms of Zika virus disease? The disease is typically mild for most people, resulting in fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes as common symptoms. Approximately 25% of all people infected with Zika virus exhibit symptoms. Most people infected with Zika virus don’t realize they have the disease because they have no symptoms. However, Zika virus disease also can result in devastating problems. If a pregnant woman becomes infected with Zika, the illness can cause severe brain defects in the fetus, including microcephaly. A baby born with microcephaly will have an abnormally small head and an underdeveloped brain. Depending on the severity of microcephaly, a baby may also suffer seizures, developmental delays, hearing loss, and other problems. Other individuals infected with Zika virus have developed viral meningitis, myelitis, and the rapidly progressive neurologic disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome. There’s no cure for Guillain-Barre syndrome — doctors can only treat the symptoms. What steps can you take to prevent Zika infection? While the Zika virus can seem frightening, there are ways you can protect yourself from being infected. Besides simply avoiding mosquitoes as much as possible, take these additional steps to reduce your risk. Remain indoors during peak biting hours: Aedes mosquitoes, which transmit the Zika virus, usually bite during early morning, late afternoon and evening hours. Use bug repellent: The repellent you choose, either wipes or spray, should contain DEET or picaridin, both of which are safe for pregnant women to wear. If you’re also going to use sunscreen, put the sunscreen on first, and then use bug repellent. Wear appropriate clothing: Choose loose, light-colored clothing, and opt for long sleeves and long pants when you can. Limit travel: Particularly if you’re pregnant, don’t visit Zika-affected countries. You can check the latest travel advisories on the Centers for Disease Control website. Use a mosquito bed net: If you do have to travel to Zika-affected areas or aren’t able to protect yourself from mosquitoes for some other reason, sleeping under a bed net can prevent bites. Know your elevation: If you’re traveling to an area at an elevation of more than 6,500 feet, you’re at a lower risk of being bitten by mosquitoes. Use barrier protection during intercourse: Zika can be transmitted sexually, so if your partner has exhibited symptoms of the disease or has traveled to an affected area, use condoms until the infection has been ruled out. What should you do if you suspect you have been infected with Zika? If you’ve been in Zika-affected areas and exhibit symptoms of the virus, be sure to visit your doctor and get tested for the disease. If you’re pregnant and you or your sex partner have traveled to any of these areas, it’s a good idea to get tested, even if you aren’t having any symptoms. In May 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first commercial test to detect the Zika virus in people. Previously, doctors had to send blood samples to state health labs or to the CDC to be tested. The approval helps doctors diagnose the disease faster. If you are diagnosed with Zika virus disease, be sure to continue wearing bug repellent to prevent spreading the virus to uninfected mosquitoes and other people. While it’s best not to panic, it’s important to take steps to prevent Zika infection. Researchers are diligently working toward developing a vaccine, but it could take months to years to be ready. For now, prevention is the best defense against Zika.