President Barack Obama is the latest person who’s started to worry about the Zika virus. On Tuesday, the president called for a rush order of tests, vaccines, and treatments after a study by the World Health Organization suggested that the mosquito-borne virus would soon spread through most of the Americas, including areas that are home to 60 percent of the U.S. population. Some doctors have warned that a vaccine may be ten years away.
The virus jumped from Africa to the New World in 2015, first appearing in Brazil last May, and it’s spread to 24 countries, most recently in the Caribbean. As of Wednesday, five people have tested Zika positive in New York State, including two in New York City. The virus causes no symptoms in 80 percent of the people it infects, and most of the remaining 20 percent experience mild symptoms, but it’s extremely dangerous to the unborn, causing microcephaly (shrinking of the head and brain) in infants. Zika can’t be spread by people directly — you’d have to be bitten by a mosquito that had already bitten an infected person. Nonetheless, there’s an understandable reluctance for travelers to go to South America right now, and several major airlines have begun offering refunds to people who have booked flights to Zika-affected countries. Brazil has launched a ground attack of more than 200,000 soldiers to battle mosquitoes, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.