A baby born with brain damage in Hawaii is the first child to be linked to the Zika virus in the United States. The Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) confirmed Friday that the infected baby was born in an Oahu hospital with microcephaly (an unusually small head and brain.)
There is no risk of transmission in Hawaii, as neither the mother nor the baby are infectious. The child had likely become infected in the womb, after the mother acquired the infection in May 2015 while living in Brazil. She was likely infected from a mosquito bite early in her pregnancy and the virus then damaged the developing brain of the fetus.
Thousands of children have been born with similar birth defects from the Zika virus in Brazil recently, reports The New York Times. Brazil normally reports about 150 cases of microcephaly on an annual basis. However, since October more than 3,500 cases have been reported.
DOH State Epidemiologist, Dr. Sarah Park commented on the DOH website.
“In this situation, an astute Hawaii physician recognized the possible role of Zika virus infection, immediately notified the Department of Health, and worked with us to confirm the suspected diagnosis. We rely on our exceptional medical community to be our eyes and ears in the field to control and prevent the spread of illness in Hawaii.”
There have been no cases of anyone being infected with the Zika virus while in Hawaii; although, six people have become infected in other countries and then traveled to the state since 2014. Physicians are required by the state to report any cases that may be the Zika virus or any of over 75 other reportable diseases.
The Department of Health issued a statement reminding physicians that travel history must always be considered as the Zika virus can be caught in other countries and brought into the United States.
“We are saddened by the events that have affected this mother and her newborn. This case further emphasizes the importance of the CDC travel recommendations released today,” said Dr. Park. “Mosquitos can carry serious diseases, as we know too well with our current dengue outbreak and it is imperative that we all Fight the Bite by reducing mosquito breeding areas, avoiding places with mosquitos, and applying repellant as needed.”
The Center For Disease Control (CDC) recommended that pregnant women and those considering pregnancy reconsider traveling to any areas that contain an active Zika virus transmission.
The New York Times reports that this includes 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries. The list is continuing to grow larger, with Barbados reporting its first cases on Saturday.
Because no vaccine exists to prevent the disease, all travelers are warned to take aggressive steps to prevent mosquito bites. The mosquitoes that spread the virus bite mostly during the day and also spread dengue and chikungunya diseases.
— Hawaii News Now (@HawaiiNewsNow) January 16, 2016
The CDC suggests using insect repellents, especially those that contain DEET, IR3535, picaridin, para-menthane-doil or oil of lemon eucalyptus as these products tend to provide longer lasting protection. Suggestions also include wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts whenever possible and sleeping under a mosquito bed net.
The virus is transmitted primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito. Rarely, it can be transmitted from mother to fetus during pregnancy or around the time of birth. There has also been one report of a possible infection through blood transfusion and one through sexual contact.
How the virus damages fetal brains is not yet known. The New York Times reports that the virus is not closely related to others that cause microcephaly, such as rubella. However, it is related to yellow fever, dengue and the West Nile virus, which don’t cause that type of damage.
According to the Center For Disease Control, about one in five people infected with the Zika virus actually develop the disease and become sick. Common symptoms are rash, joint pain, fever or conjunctivitis (red eyes.) Other symptoms include headache and muscle pain. Symptoms are usually mild and experienced for a few days to a week. Hospitalizations are rare.
No medications are available to treat the disease, so all you can do if you acquire the illness is to treat the symptoms, says the CDC. Get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids, take acetaminophen for fever, but avoid aspirin and NSAIDS until dengue can be ruled out.
In addition, if you have the Zika virus, avoid mosquito bites during the first week of the illness to help prevent the spread of the disease.
[Photo via AP Images]