The Zika virus has been confirmed to have entered the United States. The mosquito-borne disease was reportedly brought into the country from Latin America, causing widespread panic.
KVUE reported that the virus was confirmed in a Harris County, Texas traveler who came back from Latin America. The disease is carried by the Aedes species of mosquitoes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Zika outbreaks occurred in parts of Southeast Asia, South America, Africa and the Pacific Islands.
CBS reported that the first identified case of Zika virus in the Americas was less than two years ago. The first local case was in Brazil in May 2015. According to health officials, about 440,000 to 1.3 million people in Brazil had the illness. There were also several cases in Mexico in November 2015, followed by Puerto Rico in December. There are no reported cases of locally transmitted Zika in the United States yet, although there are reports of affected returning travelers. Vox wrote that officials speculate that the virus might follow the same pattern as the dengue spread in the United States. The starting point will be in Puerto Rico, and then there will be outbreaks in Florida, Gulf Coast states and possibly Hawaii.
The disease already triggered panic in Brazil due to babies born with microcephaly. Microcephaly is a condition where babies are born with smaller heads than average, which usually causes mental retardation. Affected patients usually present symptoms like joint pain, fever, rash and conjunctivitis. Some cases can be severe, and require hospitalization. The Ministry of Health in Brazil cited that microcephaly cases have grown 10 times more than the yearly average. Newsweek cited that mothers who delivered babies with microcephaly reported having an illness similar to Zika early in their pregnancy. The link between Zika and microcephaly is still under investigation, since some babies with the condition tested positive for the virus while others were negative. Brazilian health officials already asked women in affected areas to delay pregnancies until further investigation can be completed.
CDC also asked pregnant women to take extra caution to prevent mosquito bites when traveling to Brazil or Latin America. Most patients will only experience mild symptoms, lasting for several days to one week. Deaths are rare. Currently, there is no cure for Zika virus, prevention is key to reducing the risk. Individuals who notice symptoms should approach a healthcare provider immediately.