Check back in with the UPMC HealthBeat blog for news and updates on the Zika virus\nThese days, as you smack a mosquito against your skin, you can\u2019t help but think of the Zika virus.\nZika is a newly widespread mosquito-borne illness that has made waves across Central and South America. The virus has been linked to several serious birth defects and can also be transmitted via sexual contact, according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).\nWith the continued rise of Zika, you may begin to wonder: What happens when you contract the Zika virus? And can the Zika virus kill you?\nLong-Term Affects of Zika: Is the Virus Fatal?\nOnly two possible Zika-related deaths have been recorded in the United States, according to the CDC. Both victims were elderly patients, and it is unclear whether Zika was the sole cause of death.\nWhile contracting the Zika virus typically is not fatal, the long-term side-effects of the virus can be devastating especially among babies infected while in-utero.\nZika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, and infection during pregnancy can lead to several serious birth defects. Women who contract the virus during the first trimester of pregnancy appear to be most at risk.\nIn some cases, the birth defects can cause the mother to miscarry, however, other lasting complications from Zika-related birth defects appear to include:\n\nDevelopmental delays\nSeizures\nMental retardation\nFeeding problems\nStunted growth\nHearing and vision loss\n\nZika also appears to be associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a condition in which your body\u2019s immune system attacks\u00a0its nerves, resulting in muscle weakness, and in rare cases, full-body paralysis.\nFollowing hospitalization, most patients make a full recovery from Guillain-Barre. The condition is fatal in only 5 percent of patients. Though no official link has been made, the CDC does acknowledge a connection between the Zika virus and Guillain-Barre syndrome.\nZika has also been linked to microcephaly, a rare neurological disorder in which an infant\u2019s head is significantly smaller than it should be. This usually results in incomplete brain development and can be life-threatening.\nIs Zika Curable?\nNo vaccine that can cure or prevent Zika yet exists. Studies are underway to identify a vaccine that will work to prevent infection from the Zika Virus.\nDue to the link between pregnant women and children born with birth defects, there is a particular focus on developing a vaccine for women who are or could become pregnant.\nTo protect yourself from the Zika virus take steps to prevent mosquito bites by using repellant and wearing long sleeves and pants, and avoid travel to areas with mosquitos known to carry the virus.