The alarm is because there’s a lot scientists still aren’t sure of. Does Zika really cause microcephaly in babies? Was last year’s spike in microcephaly in Brazil even real, or just a result of doctors looking for it harder? Does Zika cause the paralyzing Guillain-Barré syndrome? Can mosquito species other than Aedes aegypti spread Zika? Can it be sexually transmitted?
But while there’s no vaccine against Zika, inoculating yourself against rumor and fear-mongering is just as important. There are sober explainers on what we do know about Zika; there’s advice from health authorities like the CDC and the WHO. The key is to know what to worry about and what not to.
Here’s the brief version: If you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, take special care (here’s how) in places where Zika is being actively transmitted (here’s a map). If you’re trying to get pregnant, consider waiting. You might also be a little cautious in places where Zika isn’t spreading but A. aegypti is present and active, like Florida and Texas (here are mosquito maps).
If you’re not pregnant or trying for it, and you’re in a Zika or aegypti region, take precautions, but don’t panic. The link with Guillain-Barré is worrying, but still tenuous. Most people with Zika never develop symptoms, and most of those who do develop only mild ones. You can’t infect someone else by touch. And sexual transmission, if it exists at all, is extremely rare.
And if your local mosquitoes aren’t aegypti but another species of Aedes—or a different genus altogether—there’s probably nothing to worry about. But keep an eye on the news, all the same.