Utah Man Becomes First to Die from Zika Virus in U.S.

The unidentified Salt Lake County resident tested positive for the virus last month and later died of internal bleeding after he was hospitalized for Zika symptoms, including a high fever, rash and joint pain, Salt Lake County Health Department director Gary Edwards tells PEOPLE.

“He had visited a country that we know has ongoing Zika transmission, and when he was tested at the hospital, it was confirmed that he had the virus,” says Edwards. “Death from Zika is quite rare. We know that it contributed to this person’s death, but the exact cause hasn’t yet been determined. This individual also had an underlying medical condition.”

Although no locally transmitted cases of Zika have been reported in the United States, thus far there have been 1,132 travel-related cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

“The CDC has been working with state, local and territorial health officials to prepare for the possibility of locally acquired Zika transmission,” Benjamin N. Haynes, a spokesperson for the CDC, tells PEOPLE.

“The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after being bitten by an infected mosquito,” Haynes says, but “many people infected with Zika have no symptoms.”

The most common symptoms of Zika include conjunctivitis (red eyes), rash, fever, joint pain and headache. With no vaccine to treat or prevent the virus, “it’s important that people take steps to protect themselves from mosquito bites,” Haynes adds.

Although the Zika virus is primarily spread through mosquitos, sexual transmission has also been documented and has been linked as a cause of microcephaly and other fetal brain defects in countries such as Brazil, which is about to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

The Zika virus is also linked to Guillain-Barre’ syndrome – an uncommon sickness of the nervous system, in which a person’s immune system damages the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis, Haynes tells PEOPLE.

He recommends that anyone planning to travel to a Zika zone take steps to protect themselves from mosquito bites.

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