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5 things Western Pennsylvanians need to know about Zika

| Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, 1:03 p.m.
AFP/Getty Images
Aedes Aegypti mosquitos are photographed in a laboratory of control of epidemiological vectors in San Salvador, on Jan. 27, 2016.

Zika virus, which has been linked to severe birth defects in thousands of babies in Brazil, is spreading “explosively” and could affect as many as 4 million people in the Americas, the World Health Organization said Thursday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel alert for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Tribune-Review Medical Editor Luis Fábregas spoke to Dr. Amesh Adalja about Zika risks for people in Pennsylvania. Adalja is an infectious disease physician at UPMC and a senior associate at UPMC Center for Health Security.

LF: Is the Zika virus a threat to people in Pennsylvania?

AA: For the majority of people, Zika is a benign self-limited illness. Of those infected only 20 percent experience any symptoms. However, Pennsylvanians — especially pregnant women — who travel to places in which Zika is circulating should take proper precautions to minimize mosquito exposure (which will also protect them from dengue and chikungunya, spread by the same type of mosquitoes). Geographically, Aedes albopictus (Asian tiger mosquito) is found in southeastern Pennsylvania and there is a theoretical risk that an infected traveler could be bitten and the local population of Aedes mosquitoes seeded.

LF: What is the most important thing we need to know about Zika?

AA: The most important aspect of Zika virus is that for the vast majority of people, it is a minor illness. About 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill, according to the CDC. The most common symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes).

LF: Should pregnant women in the region worry about this virus? Should they alter travel plans?

AA: Pregnant women in the region should worry about Zika virus if they are traveling to an area in which the virus is circulating. Until better control is achieved, it is recommended that they alter travel plans. The CDC has a comperehensive list of Zika-affected areas.

LF: Is the Zika virus cause for a traveler to cancel a trip they've already planned to one of the countries affected? (Countries in the Caribbean, South America, and Central America?)

AA: Cancelling a trip to a Zika-affected country is a very reasonable action for a pregnant traveler.

LF: What precautions should travelers take while in the affected countries in order to prevent becoming infected with the Zika virus?

AA: Travelers in those areas should practice good mosquito avoidance behaviors such as wearing mosquito repellent, minimizing exposed skin, staying clear of known mosquito habitats, and removing standing water (which serves as a breeding place for Aedes mosquitoes) from their dwellings.

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