Zika virus is of concern locally

Published 7:00 am Saturday, January 30, 2016

With the Zika virus outbreak affecting many parts of the world, health officials with the Mississippi State Department of Health advise people, especially pregnant women, to avoid affected areas.

No cases of the Zika virus have been reported in Mississippi, but Brittny Radosta, RN, infection preventionist at Highland Community Hospital, said the hospital is taking preemptive measures to ensure employees and patients are aware of the signs associated with the virus.

The Zika virus spreads via mosquito bites that cause usually mild symptoms like joint pain, fever, rash and conjunctivitis. The first case of the virus was reported in Brazil in 2015 and is suspected to be linked to a birth defect called microcephaly, which causes the development of unusually small heads in newborns and brain damage, according to a press release from the MSDH.

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Radosta said pregnant women can protect themselves from infection by avoiding travel to the affected areas.

“If they have a trip planned in any of the [affected] places, it would be a better idea to postpone the trip until after the baby is delivered,” Radosta said.

While no cases of the virus being transmitted locally have been reported in the U.S., the number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to the U.S. is projected to increase. Already 31 Americans have contracted the virus while traveling abroad, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Currently there isn’t a vaccine to prevent the mosquito-borne virus, however, travelers can protect themselves from an infection by wearing long sleeves and pants, using insect repellent and staying in places that have air conditioning, windows and door screens, according to the release.

The CDC has issued travel alerts for the following countries and territories, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Guyana, Cape Verde and Samoa.

For more information about the virus, visit www.cdc.gov/zika/.