Zika Virus Spreading to U.S. As CDC Issues Travel Advisories

The United States is the latest country to face the creeping menace that is the Zika virus spreading north from the current outbreak in South and Central America. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has responded with travel alerts and advisories, particularly for pregnant women.

As the CDC issues travel alerts in a bid to mitigate the Zika virus spreading, the toll of confirmed cases in the U.S. is beginning to trickle in: three new confirmed cases in Florida and two more in Illinois, with one case in Hawaii linked to a birth defect. There, a mother who was infected with the Zika virus gave birth to a baby with microcephaly, a serious and sometimes fatal condition where the baby is born with an abnormally small head due to incomplete brain development. The child represents the first birth with a Zika-linked congenital anomaly on U.S. soil. In all cases, health officials speculate that patients were infected while traveling to the tropical locations where the current Zika outbreak rages.

The Zika virus spreading north began as an outbreak in Brazil in May 2015 – an outbreak that has coincided with a spike of 3,500 cases of congenital microcephaly. Typical symptoms of Zika virus infection include a sudden onset of fever, rash, swollen and inflamed eyes, and joint pain. Zika virus disease is not typically serious in adult patients. Most of those exposed – up to 80 percent – show no symptoms. Of those who do show symptoms, most are mild cases and clear up within a week. Hospitalization is rare although the Zika virus has been associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder of the immune and nervous systems. The issues with the Tika virus become acute, however, where the patient is pregnant, including microcephaly and other congenital ailments.

The Zika virus spreading throughout Latin America and into the United States was first isolated, and takes its name from the Zika Forest in Uganda. It was first observed in human beings in the early 1950s and has resurfaced periodically in the form of outbreaks that have grown over time through the Southern Pacific and now into the Americas.

The Zika virus is transmitted via the bite of the mosquito. Specifically, it is classified as a flavivirus and is usually transmitted by the aedes aegypti mosquito common to tropical locales. Pregnant women in any trimester can be affected and the virus is transmitted through to the fetus. While the full extent of the relationship between the virus and microcephaly is not known, the organization is working under the assumption that the Zika virus spreading and the increases incidence of microcephaly in Brazil are linked.

The CDC’s new interim guidelines, issued on January 19, 2016, are designed for health care providers and suggest that pregnant women should postpone or avoid a trip to those locations where the Zika virus spreading represents a danger to their unborn children. The current outbreak has seen the Zika virus spreading throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. With the Zika virus spreading, the list of affected countries is modified on an ongoing basis to reflect actual conditions. Currently, they include Puerto Rico and Mexico along with regions of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, comprising El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Haiti, Martinique, Brazil, Colombia, French Guyana, Paraguay, Suriname, and Venezuela. Concerned about the Zika virus spreading, the CDC also recommends that pregnant women returning from those locales be screened, tested and monitored for symptoms of Zika virus infection if they show any symptoms.

On January 15, 2016, the CDC issued an Alert-Level 2 for any travelers to those regions. An Alert-Level 2 means that extra precautions are recommended. Specifically the CDC advises any travelers to those regions to take whatever steps necessary to avoid mosquito bites such as wearing long sleeved shirts and using insect repellent.

There is no current antiviral treatment available for the Zika virus. There is no vaccine or preventive treatment. The only options available for physicians are symptomatic relief such as medications for pain management and patient comfort.

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