NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Vanderbilt doctor is helping monitor the spread and prevention of Zika.

Concerns about the spread of Zika in the United States has infectious disease experts working to quickly detect the disease and better understand how to find a vaccine to prevent it.

Zika is a mosquito-borne illness that has caused epidemics in Central America, South America and the Caribbean over the past year, according to the Center for Disease Control.

“So far, Zika has not been transmitted in the continental United States,” infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center Dr. William Schaffner said. “Now there have been a number of people who have gone to the Caribbean, been bitten my mosquito, and came back with Zika infection.”

Nationally, there are more than 500 people in the U.S. who have confirmed cases of Zika, all are travel associated cases. Among them, 10 were infected through sexual contact and 48 are pregnant women.

There are three confirmed cases of Zika in Tennessee, including the latest confirmed case in a woman living in Rutherford County. She is not pregnant.

Zika in pregnant women can cause birth defects in their unborn babies, including microcephaly.

According to the CDC:

Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected. During pregnancy, a baby’s head grows because the baby’s brain grows. Microcephaly can occur because a baby’s brain has not developed properly during pregnancy or has stopped growing after birth, which results in a smaller head size. Microcephaly can be an isolated condition, meaning that it can occur with no other major birth defects, or it can occur in combination with other major birth defects.”

Microcephaly has been linked to the Zika virus.

“When we first heard about Zika it was a new infection to this hemisphere, and we knew it was going to create this transient infection,” Dr. Schaffner said. “But we had no idea that if the virus infected a pregnant woman, it could get cross the placenta and infect the baby and cause fetal malformations.”

Also, doctors found that men can carry the Zika virus in their reproductive organs and semen.

If they have unprotected sex with a partner, they can spread the virus.

“When they come back we are not sure if they have the Zika virus in their own reproductive system,” explained Dr. Schaffner. “So we ask them to use protected sex for at least six months after they return to the United States.”

There is no medical treatment for Zika. Dr. Schaffner said in women who are not pregnant the virus leaves the body in about one week. So, they can have normal pregnancies if they were not already pregnant.

That is as long as their partner is not carrying the virus.

Infectious disease experts are working closely with the CDC to monitor new cases. Meanwhile, there is a push to find a vaccine to prevent infections altogether.

“Everyone would like a vaccine. There are a large number of drug manufacturers who are working on a vaccine but we are not close,” Dr. Schaffner explained.

He continued, “It is a good year or more away. So we can’t look for a vaccine to get us out of our current circumstance.”

Dr. Schaffner said what you can do is use mosquito repellent with DEET included to prevent mosquito bites.

You should also wear long sleeves and pants, and eliminate areas around your home where mosquitos can breed.

If you travel to countries in Central and South America or the Caribbean, keep yourself covered in mosquito repellent with DEET.

“When you sleep at night, do it within an air conditioned enclosed environment,” Dr. Schaffner said. “In some of those resort places you are in those open breezes. In those cases you want to sleep under a mosquito net.”

There have been no known mosquito spread cases of Zika in the United States, but Dr. Schaffner said it will likely happen.

The good news, according to him, is that the U.S. is capable of containing the spread faster than the other countries dealing with Zika.

“I don’t think Zika will become widespread in the United States like it has in South America and the Caribbean. We could have some local introduction with a little bit of spread, but that shouldn’t alarm us because the response will be fast.”

For more information on the current efforts to track, prevent, and contain Zika, click on the links below:

For complete coverage of the Zika virus, click here.