Experts Predict Low Risk of Zika Infection in Allegheny County

By Sydney Barlow | Urban Agenda

Zika cases are on the rise in Allegheny County and across Pennsylvania, health officials said Monday. But Pittsburgh residents say it will not affect their daily lives.

According to county health officials, the Zika virus risk is small for residents because researchers have not detected the virus in mosquitos in Pennsylvania, meaning local residents acquired the virus elsewhere. However, officials are concerned that the numbers of infected people are expected to increase.

“There will be an increase because of people traveling,” said LuAnn Brinks, chief epidemiologist at the county Health Department.

The department tested more than 135 residents for the Zika virus through July 25. Seven tested positive, officials said. The state Department of Health reported 61 confirmed cases on Monday. However, the confirmed cases came from traveling to areas where the virus is prevalent, the department said.

Despite the increase in numbers, some Pittsburgh citizens are not concerned.

“I can’t say it would totally scare me,” said KJ Delvin, 21. “It’s not really in my everyday world, so I can’t say it’s a huge threat in my mind, but I understand that it is very dangerous.”

Kevin Galloway, 20, rates his concern “60 out of 100.”

“I just took a trip to Florida and I was getting bit by mosquitoes and some friends were joking about how there is Zika around and I heard afterwards there was Zika found in Florida,” Galloway said.

The Centers for Disease Control report 307 of the nation’s 433 confirmed Zika cases are in Florida. There were 14 confirmed cases this week of people in the Miami area who contracted the Zika virus directly from mosquitoes, believed to be the first such cases in the U.S, according to Florida health officials and the CDC.

As a result of the outbreak in the Miami neighborhood of Wynwood, the CDC this week warned pregnant women not to travel to Miami.

Zika is primarily transmitted to humans by infected mosquitoes, according to a CDC bulletin. It also can be sexually transmitted. The virus typically produces mild symptoms, such as fever, rash and joint pain, in humans, the agency said.

Birth defects are the biggest fear.

Pregnant women who are infected can transmit the virus to their unborn child, which could result in abnormal brain and head shrinkage, also known as microcephaly.

Andrew Bencsics, 24, said he has researched the Zika virus while his fiancée is in Florida. He also said it concerned him that there were cases of the virus in Pittsburgh, but he knew the biggest risk was for pregnant women.

“It really only affects pregnant women badly, but the best defense against that is awareness, you know — not traveling to certain areas if you are trying to get pregnant. In another year or two, if I am trying to have a child, it’s definitely troublesome,” says Bencsics.

Jasmine Dixson, 27, believes the best way to help prevent the Zika virus is “to put information up at the workplace.”

There is currently no specific treatment or vaccine for Zika.

The National Institutes of Health is working on a vaccine to help stop the virus. As of June 28, the Harvard School of Medicine and NIH have created two vaccines that protected mice from the Zika virus, according to the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

Pennsylvania has also created an action plan to help prevent the spread of the Zika virus, which includes a free response plan that observes areas in the state where the virus is prevalent and provides free testing for travelers and prevention kits for pregnant women, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Robin Tkacz, 23, believes the action plan will be beneficial.

“If people were to know about it (the virus) and they were able to get tested after traveling, it would definitely help in the long run,” Tkacz said.

Brinks of the Allegheny County Health Department said that Pittsburgh will participate in a Zika action plan that traps mosquitos. She said that the department has received money from the federal Environmental Protection Agency for vector control on different species of mosquitos.

A mosquito-related outbreak in Western Pennsylvania is not expected, Brinks said.

“In Pittsburgh, there is almost no risk due to the climate,” she said.


Zika Virus Prevention

  • Pregnant women should postpone travel to areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.
  • Men who have traveled to areas with active Zika transmission should either abstain from sex or consistently and correctly use condoms with a pregnant partner for the duration of the pregnancy.
  • Persons who travel to affected areas should protect themselves from infection by taking steps to prevent mosquito bites. Protective measures include use of DEET repellents, long sleeves and pants, use of bed nets or enclosed rooms for sleeping.
  • Persons with suspected Zika infections should stay indoors and avoid mosquito bites for the first seven days of illness to prevent local transmission.
  • All persons who have traveled to Zika-affected areas should avoid mosquitos for three weeks after their return.

Sources: Allegheny County Health Department, Centers for Disease Control



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