FILE – This 2016 digitally-colorized electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the Zika virus, in red, about 40 nanometers in diameter. On Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, U.S. health officials reported the first case of Zika spread through sex by a man who had no symptoms of the disease. In other cases of sexual transmission, the virus was spread by someone who at some point had symptoms. The Maryland man went to the Dominican Republic, where there is a Zika outbreak. He didn’t get sick but his sex partner did and recovered. (Cynthia Goldsmith/CDC via AP)
Three Chatham County residents have so far tested positive for the mosquito-borne Zika virus, though all the cases were associated with travel, the Chatham County Health Department reports. One case was sexually transmitted.
“One of the partners traveled and transmitted the virus to his or her partner,” said Dr. Lawton Davis, health director of the Coastal Health District, which includes coastal counties from Chatham to Camden plus Effingham and Long counties. The health department does not divulge patients’ gender or age to protect their privacy.
Six Zika cases have been reported in the eight-county district. Along with Chatham’s cases there was one travel-related case each reported in Long, Liberty and Camden counties.
These cases aren’t all new. The first Chatham case was reported in February as part of the statewide total and the most recent earlier this month. They came to light by specific county after Georgia Southern University earlier this week told its students and staff that a Bulloch County resident had tested positive for the virus. That created a flurry of media inquiries about which other counties had cases. Georgia records that information, but unlike other states including California that update Zika cases weekly by county, the Georgia Department of Public Health has routinely made public only the total number of cases statewide.
Zika can produce fever, joint pain, red eyes and a rash. But 80 percent of those infected have no symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also associated Zika with microcephaly, a rare birth defect.
“It’s the first virus transmitted by a mosquito that’s associated with neurological and other birth defects,” Davis said. “That’s why it’s a biggie.”
None of the six cases in the Coastal Health District involved pregnant women.
Before 2015, Zika outbreaks occurred in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. In May 2015, its transmission was confirmed in Brazil; outbreaks are currently occurring in more than 50 countries including much of South and Central America and the Caribbean. Mosquito-transmitted Zika has been confirmed in 29 cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, all in two Miami neighborhoods. Close to 2,500 travel-related cases have been reported in the U.S. in that same time.
Davis cautioned travelers to “know before you go” and check the CDC website for its advisories when traveling to areas with active transmission. (See http://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/plan-for-travel.html). Pregnant women are advised to avoid travel to Zika areas.
Zika can’t be transmitted by casual person-to-person contact but is known to persist in semen up to six months, Davis said. The CDC advises abstaining from sex or using condoms for at least eight weeks after returning from travel to a Zika area. For men who are diagnosed with Zika or had symptoms, that recommendation extends to six months.
If you travel and feel Zika symptoms, don’t be shy about getting tested.
“If you have a travel history and a mild flu-like illness, particularly with a rash, visit your healthcare provider and be very forthcoming about your travel history,” Davis said.
Like the staff of Chatham County Mosquito Control, Davis noted that Aedes albopictus, or the tiger mosquito, which is prevalent in Chatham, is not as efficient a carrier of Zika as its cousin Aedes aegypti. Tiger mosquitoes are more persistent in biting one person and they don’t feed exclusively on people. Still, tiger mosquitoes have been shown to be capable of transmitting the disease in the lab. And there are other mosquito-borne diseases — Eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile virus, chikungunya and dengue fever — that make it a good idea to avoid bites and clear your yard of any standing water, even tiny containers where theses insects can breed.
“Lightning will strike somewhere and eventually in Georgia, Zika will probably get into a local mosquito population,” Davis said.