Zika in Connecticut 'cause for concern, not panic'

The Connecticut Department of Public Health has confirmed its laboratory detected the first travel-associated case of Zika in the state. State officials said it was only a matter of time before it would turn up here.

The patient, 60 to 69 years of age, travelled to a Zika-affected area and had onset of illness on the day of return in early March, according to the DPH. The patient’s illness was characterized by skin rash, conjunctivitis, fatigue, chills, headache, and muscle aches.

The patient has been seen by a physician and is recovering. DPH did not disclose the patient's town or city of residence. Commissioner Raul Pino urged Connecticut residents to avoid travel to affected countries, and if they must, to be vigilant.

"As we have previously said, a confirmed case was never a question of ‘if’, but ‘when,’" Pino said. "Because of the preparatory steps we’ve taken previously, we are able to test more quickly and in-state. With hundreds of positive cases nationwide, across 34 states, I encourage residents to be vigilant. We at the state level are monitoring this case — and preparing for any future cases — with the utmost diligence.”

Zika virus can be spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus and has been linked to a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly in babies of mothers who had Zika virus while pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control website. Other problems have been detected among fetuses and infants infected with Zika virus before birth, such as absent or poorly developed brain structures, defects of the eye, hearing deficits, and impaired growth.

CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women. Women who are pregnant should not travel to areas with Zika. If you must travel to one of these areas, talk to your healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites during your trip, the CDC advises.

Zika is caused by Zika virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis or red eyes. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

People usually don’t get sick enough to go to the hospital, and they very rarely die of Zika. For this reason, many people might not realize they have been infected. Once a person has been infected, he or she is likely to be protected from future infections, according to the CDC.

Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 and is named after the Zika forest in Uganda. In 1952, the first human cases of Zika were detected and since then, outbreaks of Zika have been reported in tropical Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Zika outbreaks have probably occurred in many locations. Zika virus likely will continue to spread to new areas, the CDC said.

Aedes species mosquito is not present in Connecticut and related species are not likely to spread the disease in Connecticut, according to the DPH.

Murphy: 'Cause for concern but not a reason to panic'

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said news of the first case in Connecticut is "cause for concern but not a reason to panic."

“Zika is a scary disease that requires a serious, science-based response,” Murphy said. “I’m saddened to hear a Connecticut resident who traveled to a Zika-affected area contracted the disease, and wish the patient a speedy recovery. I am leading the Senate effort to fully fund the president’s emergency Zika budget request because people in Connecticut want their government officials to be in front of this public health scare.”

In January, Governor Dannel Malloy directed DPH to test for Zika virus. The tests were conducted at the DPH laboratory, which was approved for and began testing for Zika virus on Feb. 29.  The steps the state took to deliver testing in the DPH Laboratory resulted in expedited results.

“We encourage those concerned about symptoms to consult their doctor, particularly if they have traveled to an affected area and particularly if they are pregnant," Malloy said. "We have been actively taking steps for months to prepare for a positive case, including expedited testing and a coordinated response across agencies. While the risk of transmission is low, we are nevertheless no doubt continuing that preparation to the extent that we can.”

To date, 258 cases of Zika have been reported in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Of those, 18 were pregnant women and another six were sexually transmitted. In Connecticut, 198 samples have been received for testing, and 67 results have been received.  The March 18 result is the first positive test in Connecticut, DPH said.

The Aedes mosquito is found throughout tropical regions of the world and are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses.

Prevent getting bitten

There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat Zika virus infection. Contact your health care provider if you develop symptoms after returning from areas where Zika virus has been identified.

Avoid infection by preventing mosquito bites:

  • Use insect repellent according to label instructions

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants

  • Empty any items that can hold water, and use air conditioning or window/door screens.

  • It is important to practice these protective measures when traveling to areas where Zika virus is found.

The Senate passed a new measure to incentivize drug companies to combat Zika, but without emergency funding, the nation simply cannot effectively combat this potential epidemic, Murphy said.

He urged Connecticut residents who plan to travel to check the Centers for Disease Control website for information on Zika to find out who is most at risk and ways to protect themselves.

For more information about ways to protect themselves and their family, people can visit the CDC or the Connecticut Department of Public Health website, or call his Hartford office at 860-549-8463.

Murphy has supported numerous initiatives to combat the outbreak of Zika in Connecticut and across the United States.

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill cosponsored by Murphy, called the Adding Zika Virus to the FDA Priority Review Voucher Program Act, that will add Zika as an eligible disease to receive a priority review voucher from the Food and Drug Administration and encourage the development of new Zika vaccines.

Murphy will also continue to call for $1.9 billion of emergency funding to address the outbreak. Thirty-seven states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories have reported travel-related cases of Zika. There have been no locally acquired reported cases in the United States.