Here’s how worried you should be about the Zika virus in the United States

Following a seven-week break, Congress finally reconvened Tuesday and was almost immediately hit with the issue of addressing the Zika outbreak. Even with the health of the public at stake, Republicans and Democrats continued to clash over Planned Parenthood funding (which, frankly, is getting old), and for the third time rejected a $1.1 billion Zika relief bill, which would have gone toward research, surveillance of the disease, “mosquito control,” public education, support for health providers, and international aid. Congress obviously needs to stop politicizing situations that could critically affect Americans’ lives, but at the same time, how worried should you be about Zika, really?

Research has shown that Zika can be spread through mosquito bites, transmitted sexually, and, according to a study published Tuesday, spread through tears. However, for all the frankly terrifying headlines you’ve probably glimpsed over the past few months, the number of cases of locally transmitted Zika in the U.S. remain small. The CDC reports that as of this week, the country’s seen only 35 cases of locally transmitted Zika virus from U.S. mosquitoes. The 2,686 other reported cases were contracted from traveling.

In other words, the Zika virus isn’t exactly the apocalypse, but it’s definitely out there, and you should do what you can to take everyday precautions to protect yourself, whether that means safe sex or generous portions bug spray.

You can glimpse an interactive map of the Zika virus’ spread, courtesy of the CDC, here. You’ll find some of the states most affected by travel-related cases include California (152 cases), New Jersey (91 cases), Maryland (85 cases), Massachusetts (65 cases), New York (625 cases), Texas (136 cases), and Virginia (75 cases). Meanwhile, Florida is the site of all 35 cases of locally transmitted Zika.

As a general reminder, the Zika virus itself isn’t going to kill you, and has only moderate symptoms including “fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes,” and, according to the CDC, will last roughly a week. The real danger lies in the host of birth defects it can cause in newborns, including abnormally small heads and brain damage from severe microcephaly, and according to a study published in July, serious joint problems, seizures, vision impairment, trouble feeding and persistent crying. Joint problems include limitations to knee and elbow motility, and clubfeet. The same study also linked Zika with higher risk for autism, A.D.H.D., epilepsy, and various mental illnesses.

At the end of the day, you shouldn’t be particularly terrified of getting Zika unless you plan on getting pregnant any time soon. Unlike herpes and the HIV, it does not permanently stay in the body and your immune system will eventually get rid of it. After contracting Zika, the CDC recommends waiting at least eight weeks from your first sign or symptom before trying to get pregnant.

zika virus
CREDIT: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Zika isn’t a terrible issue in industrialized nations with more access to and less stigma around reproductive health services, such as contraception and abortion. It understandably remains a crisis in predominantly Catholic Latin American nations, where women in some parts of the continent have been told outright to not have sex and dangerous abortion bans remain at large. It would be ignorant and egocentric to claim Zika around the world isn’t a problem; it’s simply less of one in the U.S. than in other parts of the world.

But that’s not to say Zika hasn’t stirred up trouble in the U.S., where cases continue to pop up, paranoia controls the dialogue, and the ongoing debate between Republicans and Democrats in Congress on women’s reproductive rights limits what concrete action can be taken.

Tags: health, zika