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Zika Virus, CDC Travel Alerts, and What You Need to Know

January 19, 2016, 11:18 AM HST (Updated January 19, 2016, 11:18 AM)
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Distribution Map of Zika virus. CDC image.

Distribution Map of Zika virus. CDC image.

As the Big Island tackles the dengue fever virus, health officials across the state and country are on alert for the Zika virus.

No cases have been confirmed in Hawai’i, but the virus, whose symptoms are similar to that of dengue, has been a recent topic of conversation. On Friday, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released travel alerts for Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

The areas were listed as an alert level two out of three. CDC advises travelers to practice enhanced precautions in protecting themselves from mosquito bites while traveling to those countries. Women who are pregnant are among those at the highest risks associated with the virus as it is associated with birth defects.

Also on Friday, DOH confirmed that laboratory confirmation from the CDC that a past Zika virus infection in a baby recently born with microcephaly in an Oahu hospital. The baby is reportedly the first in the country linked to the Zika virus.

Officials say the mother mostly likely acquired the Zika infection when she was in Brazil in May 2015 and the newborn acquired the infection in the womb.

DOH officials stress that the neither the mother nor the baby are infectious and that the prior infection does not pose a risk of transmission in Hawai’i.

“We are saddened by the events that have affected this mother and her newborn,” said DOH State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park. “This case further emphasizes the importance of the CDC travel recommendations released [Friday]. 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.”

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Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites and usually brings on the onset of mild symptoms, including fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. Symptoms can last several days to a one-week period.

There is no vaccine to prevent or medication to treat Zika, and most often, those infected do not require hospitalization.

Hawai’i Department of Health officials have confirmed that no cases of Zika virus being acquired in Hawai’i have been reported.

Since 2014, only six people in the state have been identified by DOH. All six of those individuals acquired their infection in another country.

The Zika virus is similar to the dengue virus in its mosquito-borne nature. Both are also flavivuruses. CDC lists Zika as “usually mild,” whereas dengue can be potentially very painful, causing severe joint pain.

In Hawai’i, physicians are required to report all suspected cases of Zika virus and more than 75 other reportable diseases in the state.  Physician reporting is crucial to conducting an effective disease surveillance program in Hawai’I, according to DOH officials.

On Friday, in light of the CDC and confirmed past infection in the newborn, DOH sent a Medical Advisory to physicians across the state as a reminder that while the Zika virus is not endemic in the U.S., it can be acquired in a number of countries, and travel history should always be considered.

To learn more about the Zika virus, visit the CDC website. Those interested in learning about the CDC’s travel notices in depth should also visit the CDC website.

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