YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Zika Virus has now caught the attention of the World Health Organization, which announced that an emergency meeting will be held to determine if the outbreak should be declared an international health emergency.
Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that is affecting many in South America and Mexico. While it rarely causes serious symptoms (80 percent of people who are infected don’t even notice they have it), the major concern is the alarming connection between the virus and babies who are born with abnormally small heads. This has caused serve developmental issues and sometimes death.
Experts say it is too early to tell whether Zika is the cause of the condition, but there are some indications that the two are linked.
The virus isn’t widespread in the U.S. The CDC has confirmed 31 Americans have been diagnosed with Zika infections in the past year.
A local infectious disease specialist says the threat here at home is low.
“Don’t go to sleep worrying about this tonight. There are other things in the world to worry about,” said Dr. John Venglarcik.
He says there has been no transmission of the virus in the U.S., meaning those 31 people picked up the virus from infected areas outside of the continental U.S.
The virus is transmitted when a specific type of mosquito bites a person with an active infection and then spreads the virus by biting others. The type of mosquitoes that spread this virus are not found here in the Valley — they are confined to subtropical regions and don’t make it to the Midwest.
“So for right now, the only way to get the virus is to travel to an endemic area. That includes Africa, southeast Asia and the Americas,” Venglarcik said.
Dr. Venglarcik said if you are not pregnant and have have plans to head to the Caribbean, you can keep your plans. Just be sure to pack mosquito repellent and avoid contact with mosquitoes.
“If you are a pregnant female, and you are planning on traveling anywhere south of the U.S.-Mexico border, you probably want to change your plans,” he said.
In fact, those living in affected areas like El Salvador is advising women to avoid having babies until 2018. Scientists are now trying to work on a vaccine, and the CDC has issued a travel alert for the affected areas.
Kathy Pahanish is the owner of Executive Tour and Travel in Poland, and she says she has not seen a decline in travel to infected areas, but they make sure all of their clients are aware of the outbreak.
“We highly recommend purchasing insurance, and we do that with every vacation, because no one can foresee the future,” she said. “Women who are not pregnant now and are planning to travel in six months or so and may become pregnant in the meantime, they may want to cancel their trip.”
Venglarcik said no matter where or when you are traveling, you should always check the CDC’s website as a precaution.