SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church will have its mission presidents provide guidance to missionaries about how to avoid the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease that is "spreading explosively" across the Americas.
The virus generally causes mild symptoms, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned pregnant women against travel to many Central and South American and Caribbean nations because Zika appears to cause brain damage in newborns.
"Missionaries throughout the world are instructed on how to stay healthy, including avoiding mosquito-borne viruses," LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said Friday morning. "The disease prevention principles are the same for any disease that’s transmitted by mosquito. We will continue to monitor this mosquito-borne disease and will provide instructions on prevention to missionaries through their mission presidents.”
Zika was discovered in Africa in 1947 but did not spread widely in the Western Hemisphere until a May outbreak in Brazil, according to a New York Times fact sheet. The Zika virus has not been considered a major threat because 4 in 5 people infected by a mosquito do not develop symptoms at all. In fact, it's likely that millions of people in the tropical Americas may have had the virus without knowing. Those who do exhibit symptoms can experience fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes but usually do not require hospitalization.
However, Brazil has seen a large increase in microcephaly. Normally, that country sees about 150 cases in 3 million annual births, but Brazil is now investigating nearly 4,000 cases, the Times reported.
El Salvador is encouraging women not to get pregnant for the next six to 24 months.
The CDC specifically has warned pregnant women to avoid most Central American countries — Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Panama — much of the Carribean — Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, Martinique, Barbados, U.S. Virgin Islands — and most of northern half of South America — Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay.
The Aedes species of mosquito is responsible for the spread of the Zika virus. The yellow fever mosquito has spread most Zika cases but in the U.S. is common only in Florida, along the Gulf Coast and in Hawaii. The Asian tiger mosquito, which ranged as far north as New York and Chicago in the summer, the Times reported, is also known to transmit the virus.
A World Health Organization official said the disease is "spreading explosively" across the tropical region of the Americas and will be seen in every nation in the Americas but Canada and Chile, the Washington Post reported. The WHO announced Thursday it will convene an emergency meeting Monday to find ways to combat the virus.
There is no known cure or vaccine. A Zika vaccine may be ready for emergency use by year's end, but won't be widely available for years, according to Business Insider.