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53 people in Pennsylvania await Zika test results

| Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, 1:54 p.m.

Fifty-three Pennsylvanians are waiting to see whether they are infected with the mosquito-borne Zika virus, up from a dozen a week ago, the state Department of Health reported on its website Tuesday.

In Allegheny County, results are pending for 16 people, up from four a week ago, according to the county Health Department.

Wes Culp, a spokesman for the state Health Department, attributed the increase to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to test asymptomatic pregnant women who have traveled to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission.

“The surge is probably also due in part to increased awareness,” Culp said.

The CDC is performing the blood tests, which can take up to two weeks for results.

Worldwide, health authorities suspect the virus led to an increase in Brazil of microcephaly, in which children are born with abnormally small heads. As a result, the World Health Organization on Feb. 1 declared an international health emergency. The CDC advised pregnant women or those considering becoming pregnant to avoid travel to places with Zika outbreaks.

There's no vaccine for the virus, which spreads primarily through bites from a mosquito not typically found in Pennsylvania or Ohio.

The CDC said sexual transmission of the virus is possible, but mosquito bites remain the primary way Zika is transmitted. Zika has been found in the semen of infected men, and it's unknown how long it remains there, the CDC said last week.

The CDC also recommended that men who live in or have traveled to an area of Zika transmission and have a pregnant partner should abstain from sex or use condoms for the duration of the pregnancy.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com

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