The first infant victim of the Zika Virus, a baby girl in Texas, has died in the U.S., of complications from microcephaly related to the infection.
Paired with at least four Zika cases in Florida that were contracted from mosquitos, at least one case of microcephaly in Hawaii and the death of an elderly Utah woman from the disease, health officials are continuing calls for vigilance against the mosquito-borne illness.
While no domestically acquired cases have been reported in North Carolina, there have been reports of 33 cases in the state related to travel activities.
State health officials are encouraging North Carolinians to take preventive measures against mosquito bites and to stay informed of the risk of Zika virus infection before traveling to areas with local, active transmission, including Miami.
On Aug. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued travel, testing and other recommendations for people who traveled to or lived in a Miami neighborhood where homegrown Zika patients were infected.
Zika virus is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infectious Aedes aegypti mosquito, but the existence of this mosquito has not been verified in North Carolina, according to a joint survey between three of the states universities and various local health departments.
“The risk of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in North Carolina transmitting Zika virus is very low,” State Public Health Veterinarian Carl Williams said. “North Carolina’s efforts in Zika preparedness and response have positioned us well should local transmission occur. Nonetheless, it’s important for people to take preventive measures against mosquito bites and be aware of CDC guidance on travel to areas with active transmission.”
During the budget negotiations, the General Assembly allocated $477,500 to develop an infrastructure to detect, prevent, control and respond to the Zika virus and other vector-borne illnesses.
The North Carolina Division of Public Health is using the funds to hire entomology and laboratory experts, and provide aid to counties across the state.
Additionally, North Carolina has been awarded more than $1 million in grant funds from the CDC to address Zika, including surveillance, tracking and reporting of Zika pregnancy outcomes.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, spoke recently with Mark Shiver on the “What Matters in North Carolina” radio show about the threat of Zika in the state and his recent article in Forbes on the subject.
In his article, Gottlieb says that the entrance of homegrown Zika was inevitable in the U.S., and “Florida was always going to be ground zero for its arrival.”
“With proper vigilance, the expected outbreaks should be limited in number, and narrow in scope. That we’re nearing the end of summer should provide some bulwark against larger and more frequent occurrences,” he said.
Gottlieb said that the chances of catching Zika in the U.S. are very low, but the costs to some, specifically pregnant women, can be extremely high and the disease needs to be taken seriously.
One possible danger is that, like many mosquito-borne diseases, Zika might reoccur each summer in limited cases, as opposed to being eradicated.
“Over the years, Florida, Texas and Arizona have all experienced isolated outbreaks of dengue and yellow fever,” Gottlieb said. “Any of these states is also vulnerable to Zika. The risk now is that, like the West Nile virus, Zika could become endemic to the U.S., with recurrent outbreaks each summer.”
Zika’s discovery dates back to the 1940s
Scientists studying yellow fever in Uganda’s Zika forest in 1947 first discovered the Zika virus in a monkey.
But it wasn’t found to be actively circulating in people until a small outbreak was detected in 1962 in Africa.
The virus then spread to Micronesia and then further east to South America where it has begun to work its way north.