Zika Death In Utah: Elderly Woman With Virus Dies, First Related Death In Continental U.S.

A Utah woman has died after becoming infected with the Zika virus, possibly making her the first victim of the mosquito-borne in the continental United States, the Salt Lake County Health Department announced Friday.

The elderly woman, who died in late June, had an underlying health condition and had traveled to areas with mosquitoes known to spread the Zika virus, according to CNN.

The Salt Lake County Health Department noted in a statement posted to its Facebook page that the death of the woman may not be related to the Zika virus.

“While this individual did test positive for Zika virus, the exact cause of death has not been determined, and it may not be possible to determine how the Zika infection contributed to the death. Due to health privacy laws, health officials will not release further details about the individual or the individual’s travel history.”

The Salt Lake County Health Department said in its statement that there is no threat of Zika virus infection in the area.

Dr. Ari Faraji, manager of the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District, told Fox News the mosquito species associated with the transmission of the Zika virus is not native to Utah.

“The exotic mosquito species [Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus] capable of transmitting Zika virus are not found along the Wasatch Front. In fact, so far this season, we have not detected those two species anywhere in Utah.”

Officials note that even in areas of the continental U.S. where mosquitoes capable of carrying Zika are found, they have not identified any Zika infections transmitted by local mosquitoes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it wasn’t clear how much of a role Zika played in the death. Zika normally causes very mild symptoms — at the worst a rash and a fever, according to a statement.

“CDC has been notified by public health officials in Utah of the death of a resident who developed Zika virus infection after travel to an area with ongoing Zika transmission. Laboratory tests conducted in Utah were positive for Zika; however, the exact cause of death has not been determined.”

Health officials warn that sexual activity can also transmit Zika virus. Pregnant or women trying to conceive should avoid having unprotected sex with a man who has traveled recently to an area of the world where Zika virus is circulating. Additionally, women should practice abstinence or use condoms for six months after their partner’s travel or, if already pregnant, for the duration of the pregnancy.

“This unfortunate situation is a tragic reminder of how important it is to receive proper pre-travel education and to protect yourself from mosquitoes when travelling abroad,” said Dr. Dagmar Vitek, medical director for SLCoHD. “In addition to Zika, travelers need to be mindful of other diseases found around the world, including mosquito-borne illnesses like Dengue fever, malaria, and chikungunya.”

While Zika is rarely fatal, an elderly Puerto Rican man died in April from Zika complications, according to NBC News.

For the most updated information about where mosquitoes are spreading Zika, visit the “Areas with Zika” section here.

[Image via James Gathany | Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and Resized | Public Domain]