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Traveling pregnant women, missionaries should be wary of zika virus

By Mark Shenefelt - | Jan 31, 2016

How worried should Utahns be about the Zika virus? 

There’s no immediate threat of widespread infections here, but local health authorities are paying attention to the mosquito-borne virus, which has reached epidemic proportions in at least 24 countries worldwide, according to the latest count Sunday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is on our radar screen,” said Lori Buttars, spokeswoman for the Weber-Morgan Health Department. “We have had some education meetings with the epidemiology people, who are tracking it, like we do West Nile.”

But there should be concern for pregnant women who travel to an affected country, because the Zika virus has been linked to microcephaly, a serious brain defect in babies.

Also of potential concern for Utahns are those with church missionaries in affected nations. For example, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has nearly 1.3 million members in Brazil, the epicenter of the Zika epidemic, according to mormonnewsroom.org. The church has 34 missions in Brazil and 85,000 missionaries worldwide.

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Suuplied/Centers for Disease Control


The church issued a statement Friday saying it is instructing missions on how to safeguard against mosquito-carried illnesses.

“Missionaries throughout the world are instructed on how to stay healthy, including avoiding mosquito-borne viruses,” spokesman Eric Hawkins said in the prepared statement. “The disease prevention principles are the same for any disease that’s transmitted by mosquito. We will continue to monitor this mosquito-borne disease and will provide instructions on prevention to missionaries through their mission presidents.”

There have been no reported Zika cases in Utah, but at least five have been reported nationwide, all among people who have traveled to affected countries, the CDC said.

The World Health Organization on Monday declared a global emergency over the explosive spread of the Zika virus, calling it an “extraordinary event” that poses a public health threat to other parts of the world, the Associated Press reported..

“It is something we’re trying to educate ourselves about, as we are ebola and other things, because we do have people who travel, and we do need to tell people what to be aware of,” Buttars said.

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Felipe Dana

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes sit in a petri dish at the Fiocruz institute in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. The mosquito is a vector for the proliferation of the Zika virus currently spreading throughout Latin America. New figures from Brazil’s Health Ministry show that the Zika virus outbreak has not caused as many confirmed cases of a rare brain defect as first feared. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Prevention guidance is the same as with other mosquito-carried diseases, she said, including eliminating areas of standing water where mosquitoes might congregate, replace worn or damaged window screens, wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants and apply insect repellent with DEET,

Rebecca Ward of the Utah Department of Health said in a phone interview Thursday the Utah public health lab will be working with health care providers to set up testing for the virus.

“For the average American who’s not traveling to an area of infection there is not a high degree of risk,” Ward said.

She said pregnant women are advised not to travel to affected countries. Women traveling into an affected area should reconsider becoming pregnant until they return to the United States or use birth control, Ward said.

The CDC says the most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis. Other common symptoms include muscle pain and headache. The incubation period is not known, but is likely to be a few days to a week. The condition rarely results in death.


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