CDC issues travel warning as Zika virus reported in Puerto Rico

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Monday January 4, 2016 – The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued a travel warning following the first reported case of Zika virus in Puerto Rico.

The outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus began in Brazil last May, followed by outbreaks in several Central and South American countries, according to the CDC warning.

A “locally transmitted” case was seen in Puerto Rico in December, which means, the CDC says, that Puerto Rico’s mosquitos have been infected with the virus and can spread it to humans.

Puerto Rico’s Health Secretary Ana Rius confirmed on Thursday that the unidentified patient, who lives in the island’s eastern region, had not travelled recently.

The CDC consequently advises tourists headed to Zika-detected areas in South America, Central America, the Caribbean or Mexico to protect themselves from mosquito bites, according to a TravelPulse report.

No vaccine or medicine exists to prevent Zika virus infection, the CDC says, and advises seeing a doctor or nurse if you “develop a fever with a rash, joint pain, or red eyes.”

Zika virus was linked to microcephaly by Brazil’s Ministry of Health, per the CDC warning.

According to CNN, microcephaly is “a neurological disorder that can result in incomplete brain development in new-borns.” The news network said babies with the disorder are “born with abnormally small heads that cause often serious developmental issues and sometimes early death.”

Brazil’s 2015 Zika breakout coincided with more than 2,400 suspected microcephaly cases in 20 states, versus just 147 cases in 2014, CNN said.

Doctors found that most mothers of affected infants had Zika-like symptoms early in the pregnancy, the news network added.

Since the first local case of Zika virus was detected in Brazil last May, health officials estimate between 440,000 and 1.3 million people there have caught it.

The disease was first identified in the Americas less than two years ago and has spread rapidly across South and Central America.

Zika was first detected in humans about 40 years ago in Uganda. It is spread by the same Aedes aegypti mosquito as dengue and chikunguya.

Until a few months ago, investigators had no reported evidence that it might be related to microcephaly.

Suspicion arose after officials recorded 17 cases of central nervous system malformations among foetuses and newborns after a Zika outbreak began last year in French Polynesia, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

In November, Brazilian researchers reported the Zika virus genome had been found in amniotic fluid samples from two women whose foetuses were been diagnosed with microcephaly by ultrasound exams.

Brazil announced on November 28 that researchers had found the Zika virus present in brain tissue of a new-born with microcephaly who died.

As more evidence arose from further Brazilian tests, PAHO and the World Health Organization recently urged officials in the Americas to watch for possible neurological problems or congenital malformations elsewhere related to cases of Zika.

In addition to Brazil and Puerto Rico, other countries in the Americas reporting confirmed cases of Zika include Chile, Colombia, Panama, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela.

None except Brazil have found any indication of corresponding birth defects, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

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