By Dr. Mallika Marshall

BOSTON (CBS) – There is growing concern about the Zika virus that may be causing severe birth defects in children. The virus has been known since the 1940s, but only recently has it become more widespread in the Western Hemisphere.

The Zika virus is spread through mosquitoes and can cause a mild flu-like illness, however, health officials became concerned last year when the virus was linked to a rise in the number of babies born with a severe birth defect called microcephaly when the brain does not grow normally.

We still don’t know if the Zika virus is actually causing the uptick in brain malformations in newborns, but out of an abundance of caution, the Centers for Disease Control is advising expectant moms and women who may become pregnant to avoid traveling to 14 areas in the Caribbean and Central and South America. And if they do choose to travel, to try to avoid mosquito bites by using insect repellents, wearing long sleeves and long pants outside, and using mosquito nets if sleeping outdoors.

Though the CDC says we’re not likely to have a large outbreak here in the United States due to our widespread use of air conditioning, screens on windows and doors and mosquito control programs, health officials are on the lookout.

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