— -- As the Zika virus outbreak spreads in Central and South America, pregnant women in Brazil are the focus of concern because the virus could potentially lead to dangerous birth defects for their newborns.
The virus has been associated with a risk of an alarming birth defect called microcephaly, which is characterized by an abnormally small head and brain. A rise of microcephaly cases in Brazil led global health officials to jump into action in an attempt to stop the ongoing outbreak. The virus is new to the country, with the first documented case reported in May 2015. By the end of the year, officials from the Pan American Health Organization estimated more than 1 million people had become sick with the virus.
ABC News' Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser talked with a pregnant woman in Rio de Janeiro about her fears and how she handles living at the center of an outbreak.
Fabiola Barbosa, a physical therapist, is five months pregnant with her third child. She told ABC News there was not much her doctor could do for her other than advise her to use insect repellent. Barbosa has multiple candles and liquid repellents throughout her home to reduce the risk of mosquito exposure. She also covered a well near her house and overturned the bucket so that no standing water could accumulate.
"I spend 100 [Brazilian] reals with the liquid repellent," every month, Barbosa told ABC News through an interpreter. That's about US$25. "I could be buying diapers but I am buying repellent."
That number did not take into account the insect repellent she applies to exposed skin every two hours.
As a physical therapist, Barbosa said she has worked with children with similar birth defects as microcephaly and seen how difficult that can be on families.
"You have this invisible threat around you and you might get a son a child with this disease," she said. "For people who don’t know, microcephaly is a word, but for me I’m in the business. For me, it’s twice as threatening."
Barbosa said for other women in the area, she would advise them to avoid getting pregnant until it was clear that the outbreak was diminishing.
With her due date in June, Barbosa is doing as much as she can to protect herself and her children. But without any treatment or vaccine for the virus or for microcephaly, she said she is also relying on "the hands of God."
“It’s crazy. It’s such a tiny insect," she said. It "can change the life of someone who is inside me."