By: Abbey Zelko , firstname.lastname@example.org
At least four pregnant women in York County have tested positive for Zika virus, which can cause birth defects in newborns.
While the state declined to provide an exact number for the county, WellSpan Health confirmed that four pregnant patients had tested positive at its York County facilities, which include York Hospital, and three had tested positive in Lebanon County. Zero newborns tested positive at WellSpan facilities in either county.
Zika virus is an illness spread primarily by infected mosquitoes.
Most people with it have mild symptoms – such as fever, rash or headache – that last for several days to a week or no symptoms at all. Some don’t even know they are infected.
But pregnant women with Zika have a greater risk of giving birth to infants with birth defects, such as microcephaly, a condition in which a baby has a smaller-than-normal head size, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Microcephaly can also be a sign of incomplete brain development, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Zika testing for pregnant women is ordered based on travel history, according to Will Lavery, spokesman for WellSpan Health.
“What the Department of Health and the CDC are focused on continue to be people who are traveling in areas where the Zika virus has known to be transmitted,” he said. “Very few (WellSpan) patients overall probably fit the criteria of traveling to those locations.”
Those locations include all of Central America, most of South America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and The Bahamas, among others.
At this time, mosquitoes carrying Zika have not been found in Pennsylvania, and there have been no local transmission cases of the virus in the state, according to Nate Wardle, spokesman for the Department of Health.
That means all Pennsylvania Zika patients acquired the virus outside the state.
As of June 26, 149 confirmed and 75 probable Zika virus cases had been reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Health since 2015.
SouthEast Lancaster Health Services has seen 10 confirmed positive pregnant patients and two positive infant patients since October, according to Brittany Hernandez, the facility’s Zika coordinator.
And the Women & Babies Hospital at Lancaster General Health has seen 29 mothers who have been “infected or exposed” to Zika as well as one infant who tested positive for the virus, according to Mary Ann Eckard, spokeswoman for Lancaster General Health.
Neither Lancaster facility reported any significant birth abnormalities, however, they can occur at a later time within the first year, Hernandez said.
York County appears to have seen fewer Zika cases.
Wardle said there is no medical explanation for the disparity. “Since the cases are travel-related, it may involve the travel destinations for people from the two counties.”
Overall, Wardle said the risk of local transmission of Zika virus through mosquitoes remains low.
The largest risk of Zika spread in Pennsylvania is sexual transmission from a person infected abroad. He noted there is “a chance” that an infected person could spread it to a Pennsylvania mosquito if bit.
To prevent further spread of Zika, Wardle said it’s important for recent travelers to Zika-affected areas to take measures to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes for three weeks after their return to Pennsylvania.
Here are some mosquito bite prevention tips:
- Use DEET or other effective insect repellent.
- Avoid going outside at dawn and dusk.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when possible.
- Use window and door screens.
- Empty or turn over items that hold water, such as buckets, planters, pools, birdbaths, toys, planters and trash cans. Mosquitoes lay eggs in water.