First case of Zika confirmed in Ky., from traveler to Central America; no threat to Kentuckians unless they visit affected areas

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

After the first case of Zika was confirmed in Kentucky March 9, health officials held a news conference at the Capitol to raise awareness of the virus, noting that the state was coming up on the spring travel season.

Mosquitoes carry Zika. (CNN image)

Gov. Matt Bevin, Health Secretary Vickie Yates Brown Glisson and Dr. Kraig Humbaugh, senior deputy commissioner of the Department for Public Health, emphasized that only those who have traveled to affected areas, like Central and South America, need to worry about contracting the virus, which is commonly transmitted through mosquitoes.

“Many areas, including most of our surrounding states, are reporting Zika cases,” Humbaugh said in the news release. “For now, these positive results have only occurred in individuals who have traveled outside the country to places where the virus is currently spreading.”

The infected male patient in Kentucky had recently returned to Louisville from Central America. Humbaugh said he presented with signs of fever and rash, which a “very astute” health-care provider suspected as symptoms of Zika.

Common symptoms of the virus are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes,with symptoms lasting for about a week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although many with the virus will not show symptoms, Humbaugh said.

Health officials stressed that Kentucky is not at risk, but said the state has a plan in case the Zika virus spreads. Glisson encouraged health-care providers to be alert to the symptoms of the virus.

She also noted that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services was partnering with Kentucky Emergency Management and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to increase the monitoring and control of the state’s mosquito population this year.

The CDC recommends that pregnant women or those trying to become pregnant postpone travel to affected areas. However, if they must travel to one of these areas, the CDC asks them to talk to their healthcare provider before they leave and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip.

Humbaugh noted that increasing evidence has found a link between infection in pregnant women and infants born with microcephaly, a condition where the infants head is smaller than normal, which can lead to a variety of other health challenges.

The Washington Post reports that the Zika virus has “growing links to a broad array of birth defects and neurological disorders … worse than they originally suspected, increasing the risk for devastating harm during pregnancy.”

Until Zika, “there has never been a mosquito-borne virus that could cause serious birth deffects on such a large scale,” CDC Director Thomas Frieden told reporters.

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika.  The virus can also be spread through sexual intercourse, and it is still unknown how long the virus stays in semen, Humbaugh said.

Kentucky has at least one mosquito known to transmit Zika.

“We do have Aedes aegypti, but  they are a very small populations, from what I understand from our mosquito experts,” Humbaugh said.

“Our entomologists at the University of Kentucky have been advising us on this particular area. However, we have other types of mosquitoes that may be what they call competent vectors. In other words they may be able to spread the disease, but at this point that hasn’t been shown that these other mosquito types are competent vectors.”

Humbaugh encouraged Kentuckians to take normal precautions to limit exposure to mosquitoes like using approved insect repellents, wearing long sleeves and pants when outdoors, to stay inside during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active, minimize standing water and screening windows.

More information about Zika can be obtained from the department’s Health Alerts website at http://healthalerts.ky.gov/Pages/Zika.aspx. For a full list of affected countries and regions visit http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/index.html.

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