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Infectious disease specialist: Zika virus unlikely in Hudson Valley

Posted: 2/1/2016

With more than 31 cases of the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus reported in the United States, the chance of contracting the illness in the Hudson Valley is unlikely, health officials said.

“If we see any, it will be an imported case from people who traveled to countries in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean,” said Dr. Stuart Feinstein, head of Health Quest Medical Practice’s Division of Infectious Diseases.

Seven people in New York have tested positive for the Zika virus after having traveled to infected areas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 24 countries in Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, Samoa and Cape Verde where the virus is active.

The Zika virus is similar to yellow fever, West Nile, chikungunya and dengue viruses, Feinstein said. However, there is no vaccination or medication to treat Zika, he said.

The virus is transmitted from a mosquito bite and cannot be spread by human-to-human contact, Feinstein said. Both the yellow fever (Aedes aegypti) and Asian tiger (Aedes albopictus) mosquitos transmit the virus, he said. The yellow fever mosquito has been found in Key West Florida and Hawaii and the Asian tiger mosquito is present primarily in southern states, Feinstein said.

None of the U.S. cases were transmitted by mosquitos in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Symptoms of the Zika virus are similar to the flu with patients experiencing fever, joint pain, skin rash or conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. Many, however, do not experience any symptoms at all. Investigations are ongoing as to whether Zika can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a disorder where the body’s immune system attacks nerves, Feinstein said.

The incubation period for the Zika virus is usually three to 12 days. Symptoms typically resolve within a week, Feinstein said.

Zika has gained global concern because of the danger of pregnant women contracting the virus. Researchers are studying a link between Zika and microcephaly, a neurological disorder where a baby is born with an abnormally small head that can cause severe developmental delays and even death, according to the CDC.

Pregnant women who have traveled to one of the countries where Zika has been found, and who may be experiencing symptoms, should visit their obstetrician for blood work and an ultrasound, Feinstein said.

The CDC has issued a “Level 2 – Practice Enhanced Precautions” travel alert for people traveling to those regions and has urged pregnant women not to travel to the affected areas. More information from the CDC on the Zika virus can be found by visiting: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html.

Travelers who must go to those areas should exercise precautions to avoid mosquito bites, including wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, using insect repellant and sleeping with mosquito netting.

“The main thing is to avoid traveling to those risk areas,” Feinstein said.

The Zika virus is not new, having been in other parts of the world including Asia and Africa, for decades. It was more recently introduced in the Americas this past year. The first confirmed case came out of Brazil in May of 2015. More than 4,100 cases of microcephaly in Brazil have been reported in babies born to mothers infected with the Zika virus.

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