A mosquito-borne virus affecting Central and South American countries has appeared in Nebraska.
The state Department of Health and Human Services reports two confirmed cases of travel-related Zika virus. Both are women in their 20s – one in Douglas County, the other in Sarpy County.
“They have not been hospitalized,” Douglas County Health Department Director Dr. Adi Pour says. “They had symptoms. They went to their healthcare provider and that’s where they got tested.”
Dr. Tom Safranek, the state epidemiologist, says the women recently traveled overseas.
“This was not unexpected,” Safranek says. “We know that virus is out there. When we first heard about it infecting persons, we knew we would have American citizens traveling to high-risk areas and coming back with it.”
Safranek says it doesn’t appear that the virus can be transmitted by casual contact, but sexual contact is a possibility as well as via a blood transfusion.
“And I’m sure the Red Cross and other blood donation agencies are rapidly developing a test to incorporate in their screening of any donated unit of blood to make sure that they’re not transmitting Zika-positive blood to sick patients,” Safranek says.
The American Red Cross is asking anyone who has gone to a country with a Zika virus outbreak to delay donating blood for 28 days.
The virus in pregnant women can cause birth defects, but in most cases, experts say the symptoms, which include fever, joint pain, a rash and conjunctivitis (red eye), are generally mild and last about a week.
There is no vaccine or medicine to fight Zika, so preventing mosquito bites is the best defense, according to health officials.