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Zika Virus Spreads to Texas

Infected Patient in Dallas, Texas

Reports are describing a patient in Texas who contracted the Zika virus through sexual contact. Texas has seen seven other Zika cases all related to foreign travel. This virus is usually transmitted through a bite from a mosquito. These mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites. However, the virus can also be spread from mother to child around the time of pregnancy and birth, in addition to blood transfusions and sexual contact.

There have been no locally transmitted Zika cases reported in the continental United States, but cases have been reported in returning travelers. With the recent outbreaks, the number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the United States will likely increase and could result in local spread of the virus in some areas of the United States. The Zika virus is currently being transmitted through the Central and South America and the Caribbean – as a result travel advisories have been implemented.

The most common symptoms of Zika virus include:

  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Joint pain
  • Conjunctivitis (red eyes)
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache

The illness is usually short-lived and mild with infected patients very rarely needing hospitalization. Pregnant women face the most significant threat posed by this virus due to its link with the development of the serious complication of microcephaly in infants.

Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives the following guidelines for protection against the mosquitos that often cause the transmission of the Zika virus:

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Travelers are at increased risk for becoming exposed to the Zika virus. There is no treatment or vaccine for the virus. Once the symptoms occur and the diagnosis is confirmed, patients are instructed to get plenty of rest, drink fluids, remain hydrated and take acetaminophen for fever and pain relief. Even though the illness may be mild there remains a serious risk associated with the transmission of the virus from mother to baby resulting in smaller than normal head size in the baby – a condition known as microcephaly. It is therefore important to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites to stop the spread of the disease.

Microcephaly

In Brazil there have been 76 infant deaths from microcephaly in pregnancy or just after death that may have been caused by the exposure to the Zika virus. The smaller than normal head size of microcephaly is due to brain underdevelopment in pregnancy or failure of brain growth after birth. Other infections, such as Rubella, Toxoplasmosis and Cytomegalovirus, severe malnutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals are also linked with the development of microcephaly. There is no known cure or standard therapy for microcephaly. Depending on the severity of the disease the infant may experience a variety of symptoms over his or her lifetime including:

  • Seizures
  • Developmental delay, such as problems with speech, sitting, standing, and walking
  • Intellectual disability (decreased ability to learn and function in daily life)
  • Problems with movement and balance
  • Feeding problems, such as difficulty swallowing
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision problems

Therefore the CDC is recommending that pregnant women avoid all travel to more than 24 countries mainly in the Caribbean and South America where the transmission of the Zika virus has been most active.

 

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