Editor-in-Chief and A&E Editor
Wake County Public Health officials confirmed March 4 that a Wake County resident has contracted the Zika virus. It has been released that the woman is not yet of childbearing age, and she caught the disease while visiting Central and South America within the last month. This marks the first Wake County case and the fifth case in North Carolina, a number which could increase shortly with 109 pregnant women awaiting their Zika virus test results. But Dr. Sue Lynn Ledford, Wake County’s division director of public health, does not see this as a cause for concern. “We are in contact with the patient and monitoring the patient’s progress,” says Ledford. “We want to reassure citizens that there is currently no risk of transmission from this patient to others.”
Health officials are closely monitoring the victim, who exhibited symptoms upon returning to the United States. These include fever, red eyes, joint pains, rashes, headaches, and muscle pain. These symptoms, which appear within two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito or participating in sexual activities with someone who has contracted the Zika virus, are shown by only one in five infected persons. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admit there are more than one hundred travel-contracted cases in the United States, there are no cases where it has been transmitted by a mosquito within its borders. A person can be screened if they have returned from a Zika-prone area, are pregnant and showing signs, or are pregnant and have had an abnormal ultrasound.
Children born to women infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy are at a higher risk of having birth defects. This is why many believe the illness is to blame for a rapid increase in the cases of microcephaly in Brazil. This rare birth defect results in a smaller head and an underdeveloped brain. Lab tests have also found the virus in the brain tissue of several babies with the birth defect. However, in past Zika outbreaks, a rising number of babies with microcephaly was not found.
This phenomenon is cause for concern as more and more children are being born with the birth defect and more women are contracting this disease. To map the virus, and predict its spread, Google engineers are partnering with the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to analyze the collected data. Those working on the project also aim to produce tools which will help to counter the Zika virus.
“We won’t be able to develop a vaccine if we can’t tell who is and who isn’t infected,” said David Weber, associate chief medical officer at UNC Health Care. “So our first effort has to be on diagnostics, and we’re very involved in that.”