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CDC confirms Hawaii woman, baby infected with virus linked to birth defect

  • This 2006 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a female Aedes aegypti mosquito in the process of acquiring a blood meal from a human host. (James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that a baby born with microcephaly on Oahu had been infected with a virus linked to the birth defect in Brazil.

The Zika virus is spread by bites from the same kind of mosquitoes that can spread other tropical diseases like dengue fever.

However, neither the baby nor mother are infectious and there is not a risk of transmission in Hawaii, the state Department of Health said in a news release today.

The CDC issued a travel advisory today urging pregnant women to avoid travel to Latin America and Caribbean countries that have outbreaks of Zika.

The state Department of Health also issued a notice to physicians reminding doctors that while Zika virus is not endemic to the U.S., it can be acquired in a number of countries and travel history should always be considered.

The mother of the baby likely had the Zika infection when she lived in Brazil in May of last year and her newborn acquired the infection in the womb, the state Department of Heath news release said.

“We are saddened by the events that have affected this mother and her newborn,” said DOH State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park in the release. “This case further emphasizes the importance of the CDC travel recommendations released today. Mosquitoes 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 mosquitoes, and applying repellent as needed.”

To date, there have been no cases of Zika virus acquired in Hawaii. Since 2014, the department has identified six persons in the state who acquired their infection in another country. Physicians are required to report all suspected cases of Zika virus and more than 75 other reportable diseases in the state.

“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,” said Dr. Park. “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.”

Experts think that only about 1 in 5 people who are infected with the Zika virus develop any symptoms. For those that do, Zika illness usually involves fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes — which usually last no more than a week. There is no medicine or vaccine for it. Hospitalizations are rare, and deaths from Zika have not been reported. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika.

There’s been growing evidence linking Zika infection in pregnant women to microcephaly, a rare condition in which the head is smaller than normal and the brain has not developed properly. U.S. health officials are heading to Brazil, where there’s been a recent spike in the birth defect, to further study the actual risk to pregnant women. More than 3,500 cases have been reported in Brazil since October.

At least 26 Americans have been diagnosed with Zika since 2007, all of them travelers who are believed to have caught it overseas. In addition, a person in Puerto Rico who had not traveled was diagnosed with the illness last month.

U.S. health officials said pregnant women should consider postponing trips to 14 destinations — Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname and Venezuela.

They also advised women who are trying to get pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant to talk to their doctor before traveling to those areas, and to take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites.

There’s another travel alert for pregnant women already in place, discouraging travel to areas where malaria is spreading.

The virus was discovered in a monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda in 1947. It is native to tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. But infections have exploded recently in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In Brazil, most of the mothers who had babies with microcephaly were apparently infected during the first trimester, but there is some evidence the birth defect can occur later in the pregnancy, said the CDC’s Dr. Cynthia Moore.

Another CDC official, Dr. Lyle Petersen, said the virus seems to remain in the blood only about a week or two.

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CDC travel warnings page: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices

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