There is growing concern about a mosquito-borne illness that may be especially dangerous to pregnant women.

(iamporpla, ThinkStock)

According to Dr. Ted Louie, an infectious disease expert affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Saint Peter’s University Hospital, the Medical Society of New Jersey and Highland Park Medical, the Zika virus can cause fever, headache and muscle aches. Louie said pregnant women should also be aware that “there seems to be an association with fetal problems later on, something specifically called microcephaly, where the babies are born with mental retardation and small heads.”

"There may be a relationship with something called Guillain-Barre, an illness where after you have a virus, the after-effect is you may become very weak in the legs and the arms, something like you would see in people with polio,” Louie said.

The Zika virus has been identified in 20 countries, including Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador, Guyana, Barbados, Bolivia, Saint Martin and Ecuador.

Louie said if you do travel to a Central or South American country where Zika has been documented “you’ll want to avoid times when mosquitoes bite particularly much, also you’re going to cover yourself up as much as possible with long sleeves, long pants.”

He also said the mosquito that carries Zika has also been identified in Texas, Florida and the gulf states, so it’s possible to contract the virus there as well.

According to New Jersey state E\epidemiologist Dr. Tina Tan, there has been a documented case of Zika in Jersey, in someone who had traveled recently to South America.

Tan said while Zika can cause headache, body ache and fever, “the vast majority of people if they are infected don’t have any symptoms at all."

However, she said there have been reports of associations with microcephaly, so pregnant women may want to avoid traveling to countries where Zika has been identified.

“We have issued several different messages to health care provider and local health department communities about getting the message out,” she said.

Tan also said a conference call was recently held with health care officials from across the state about Zika, concerning travel advisories and the importance of taking precautions if people are going to be traveling there.

NJ Health Department spokeswoman Donna Leusner said in a written statement that since Jan. 15, 2016, several electronic health alerts regarding Zika have been issued to hospitals, community health centers, leaders of maternal and child health groups, the New Jersey chapter of the American academy of pediatricians, and OBGYN societies.

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