The island of Puerto Rico has reported its first case of Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that has been spreading across South America and the Caribbean, Caribbean News Now!reports. Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress, told Reuters that his office is in touch with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pierluisi states that “there is no reason for alarm, and the public should continue to take common sense steps to avoid mosquito bites, like using repellent and wearing long pants and shirts.” Pierluisi added that he expects experts from the CDC to visit the island early this month to educate local physicians to "properly diagnose and treat the virus."
According to public health officials, the Zika virus, which is spread by Aedes mosquitos, was first detected in Africa in the 1940s but was unknown in the Americas until last year. The mosquito-transmitted disease has been confirmed in Brazil, Panama, Venezuela, El Salvador, Mexico, Suriname, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Guatemala, and Paraguay. Zika is related to the West Nile virus, yellow fever, Chikungunya, and dengue fever.
Zika virus symptoms include mild fever, rash, muscle and joint pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), headaches, and vomiting. Affected persons show symptoms between three and twelve days after being bitten by a mosquito. Symptoms may last for four to seven days. There is no vaccine to treat the Zika virus. The only way to avoid contracting the virus is to prevent mosquito bites.
Zika Virus hit Brazil hard
In November 2015, Brazilian authorities linked Zika to an increase in babies born with microcephaly, a birth defect that limits the development of a child’s mental and physical abilities. Characteristics of babies born with microcephaly include an abnormally small skull and incomplete brain development.
More than 2,400 suspected cases of microcephaly were reported in 2015 in twenty Brazilian states, compared with one hundred forty-seven cases in 2014.The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there have been nineteen suspected Zika related deaths in Brazil since December 2015. Brazilian health officials are urging women living in areas that have an increase in microcephaly to postpone pregnancy.
Virus Could Spread to the United States
Realistically, due to the ease of travel today, Zika can make an appearance anywhere in the world. It could possibly make an appearance here in the United States. There is scientific evidence that suggests Zika can be passed from human-to-human through blood transfusions or even sex.
Back in 2011, the journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases published a case study of an American Scientist from Colorado who visited Senegal and contracted the virus. After returning to the U.S., the scientist’s wife developed symptoms of the virus, even though she never traveled with her husband to Senegal. However, she had been sexually intimate with her husband after he returned home.
In a report published February 2015, health care workers detected the Zika virus in the semen of a 44-year-old man in Tahiti several weeks after he recovered from an acute Zika infection. The virus levels in his semen were high enough for potential transmission through intercourse.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has issued a travel warning for the countries in Latin America experiencing the rapid spread of the Zika virus, encouraging protection against mosquito bites. Pregnant women, in particular, are urged to take extra steps to avoid bites.