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First case of Zika virus in Erie County confirmed

A person who had been visiting El Salvador has become Erie County’s first confirmed case of Zika, the mosquito-borne virus suspected as the cause of birth defects in Latin America.

The unidentified resident was diagnosed Wednesday but is doing well after coming down with symptoms common to the virus, County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein said Sunday. She declined to provide any other specifics about the individual, citing patient confidentiality.

Other Zika cases have been confirmed in New York State – at least 16 of them, according to media and government reports – including one late last year in nearby Monroe County.

Public health officials expect to see cases in the United States because many people travel to locations where the virus has spread with alarming speed, including Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America and South America. Nationally, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 52 cases, although this does not include New York State’s cases.

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Related story: Mysterious and fast-moving Zika virus has world health officials scrambling

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About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika become ill, public health officials say. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes from conjunctivitis. Although the illness is usually mild and people recover on their own, there have been reports of birth problems in other countries, including an apparent spike in microcephaly cases in Brazil, a defect in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected.

Zika can be spread from a mother to her fetus during pregnancy, although public health authorities have yet to definitively link Zika with the birth defect.

Regardless, they are recommending that pregnant women, women who are trying to become pregnant, or women of child-bearing age take precautions to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus. This includes avoiding travel to countries affected by the outbreak, or if in those countries, minimizing contact with mosquitoes, such as with repellents and appropriate clothing.

“The biggest concern is with pregnant women and women considering pregnancy. For other people, the virus is not considered a serious risk,” said Burstein.

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika. Medical authorities treat it with rest, fluids and pain relievers like acetaminophen to relieve symptoms.

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state will offer free testing to all pregnant women who traveled to a country with a Zika outbreak, regardless of whether they exhibit symptoms. The tests detect the presence of active virus, as well as antibodies that the human body produces in reaction to a virus.

Zika is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito from two species, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Neither species is common to the Buffalo Niagara region. They are found in the southern U.S., although the most northern distribution of albopictus comes close to parts of southern New York State.

Sexual transmission of Zika virus is possible and of particular concern during pregnancy, according to a recent CDC advisory.

Current information is based on reports of only three cases, and one was not actual sexual transmission. Instead, researchers reported finding “replication-competent” Zika virus isolated from semen in a patient who had been ill with the virus.

Visit www.cdc.gov/zika for more information about Zika.

email: hdavis@buffnews.com