Zika Virus On The Rise In U.S., Maryland Confirms Its First Case

Maryland health officials confirmed on Thursday its first case of Zika virus. Zika is a mosquito-borne disease believed to cause serious birth defects among unborn babies and paralysis among adult patients in many Latin and Central American countries.

Officials in Maryland said the infected person had recently returned from a trip to a country affected by Zika virus. It normally takes seven days for the virus to set in, but the patient in question was diagnosed within six days of catching the virus.

Officials from the State Department of Health and Hygiene assured the public that there is no need to worry as they are doing their best to stop the virus from spreading.

“This was an event that was expected to occur as travelers returned to Maryland,” Howard Haft, deputy secretary for public health, said. “This is not a significant health risk to Marylanders in general.”

Zika virus is prevalent in hot countries where the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes thrive. Symptoms include fever, joint pain, red eyes, and rashes. However, only one in five infected people will develop symptoms. Scientists also believe that the virus can cause paralysis called the Guillain-Barre syndrome.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Zika a public health emergency earlier this month, after the virus spread rapidly in the South American region. Reports link Zika to a brain disorder called microcephaly. It is a disease where babies are born with smaller brains than normal.

“That’s what we’re really most worried about with Zika virus is this complication among pregnant women,” Dr. David Blythe, a state epidemiologist, said.

The U.S. government is distributing Zika virus tests for pregnant women to health departments around the country; however, there could be temporary shortages.

Pregnant women and those people whose partners traveled to affected countries are advised to immediately consult their doctors. There have been cases in which the virus was believed to have been transmitted by infected men to their partners through sex.

Although health officials are confident that there will not be a widespread outbreak of Zika virus within the United States, they are worried that the case could become worse in Puerto Rico. They recently requested for emergency funding from Congress to fight the virus.

“We may see rapid spread through the island, and we need to respond urgently,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a Senate appropriations subcommittee meeting.

There are about 33 countries affected by the virus, but Brazil has the most number of reported cases, with an increase in the number of babies born with brain damage.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued a travel warning for 20 countries, and it also started collecting blood samples from travelers for testing.

Maryland has submitted 17 samples to the CDC. Of the results, two cases were said to be positive while one was negative. The rest have not been returned. The agency is planning to start testing for the virus in its own laboratory. They are to report case counts every week. As of February, the CDC has confirmed 52 Zika virus cases nationwide.

There is no known treatment or vaccine for Zika yet, but according to health officials, victims could manage the symptoms with rest, plenty of fluids, and acetaminophen. They also advised people to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants and use insect repellents.

[Photo by Victor Moriyama, Getty Images]