NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The Centers for Disease Control is warning pregnant women not to travel to certain Central and South American countries because of an illness known as the Zika virus.
The virus is spread through mosquito bites and typically causes mild symptoms in adults, including fever, joint pain, red eyes and rash.
"There may be a little generalized viral-type syndrome, maybe a fever, a little rash, but supposedly only one in five people actually have symptoms at all," said Dr. Brobson Lutz, an internist and infectious disease expert with the Orleans Parish Medical Society.
However, some doctors believe Zika is connected to certain birth defects in babies, including microcephaly, or an unusually small head and brain, when the mother contracts the virus during pregnancy.
"Often leading to death on the part of the baby soon after birth or serious difficulties of brain function and cognitive function," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
One child born with microcephaly in Hawaii was confirmed to have the Zika virus, likely contracted while the mother was living in Brazil last year. Now some doctors are concerned unknowing travelers may host the virus and spread it across the Gulf Coast through local mosquitoes.
"The Gulf Coast of the United States is an extremely vulnerable area because we have both species of mosquitoes that could transmit these arboviruses, including Zika," said Dr. Peter J. Hotez with the Baylor College of Medicine.
"The Zika virus can infect people, those people can go back to their home countries, and if the mosquito that is capable of transporting the virus is in their countries, those imported cases can become established cases," Lutz warned.
Now, as the CDC continues to warn pregnant women to postpone trips until after pregnancy, Lutz said all travelers should take caution when traveling abroad.
"Protection from mosquito bites when you travel is just as important as worrying about those malaria pills and other immunizations," he said.