COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – The Ohio Department of Health is reporting two cases of the Zika virus in northeast Ohio, and two new cases in Pennsylvania.
The first Ohio case was reported Tuesday in a returning traveler from Haiti, a 30-year-old Cleveland woman. Later in the day, health officials confirmed a second Zika virus case, involving a 21-year-old Stark County man who also traveled to Haiti.
State health authorities say two female Pennsylvania residents which tested positive for the Zika virus recently traveled to countries affected by the ongoing outbreak.
The department says the cases are among more than three dozen in 13 states and Washington, D.C.
There’s no vaccine for the virus, which primarily spreads through bites from a mosquito not typically found in Ohio. Officials are planning a preparedness exercise before Ohio’s mosquito season begins in May.
Many people infected don’t get sick. Some experience mild illness with symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.
Officials are investigating whether there’s a link between Zika infections in pregnant women and a rare birth defect.
While there is no indication that it can spread from person to person through casual contact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has confirmed a U.S. case of Zika virus infection in a non-traveler after the person’s sexual partner returned from an affected country and developed symptoms.
Dr. John Venglarcik, infectious disease specialist with the Mahoning County District Board of Health, said the only way transmission could occur in the Ohio is if that individual was bitten by a mosquito during the time of active infection and then that mosquito spreads the virus by biting others.
“I would like to see that mosquito because we will probably put it in a Hall of Fame. Any mosquito that could survive in January, even this mild Janurary, where it is still going below freezing at night – there are no mosquitos floating around this time of year,” Venglarcik said.
Venglarcik said Ohioans who aren’t traveling to infected areas really don’t need to be concerned until spring when mosquitoes return. But even then, the threat here is relatively low.
The primary mosquito that transmits Zika virus is found in the tropics and southern U.S, but it is not established in Ohio.
“I’d be concerned if I were a pregnant woman traveling south of the Mexican border and that includes the Carribbean,” Venglarcik said.
Following the announcement of the Ohio case, several senators including Senator Sherrod Brown introduced a bill to accelerate the development of a vaccine and treatments for the virus.
“The Zika virus – like so many other public health threats – is never more than a plane ride away, and we must make sure the U.S. stands ready to prevent its spread and give care to those who need it,” said Brown. “Our reaction must keep pace with the spread of Zika, which means we should make developing an effective treatments for the virus a priority. By adding Zika to the list of diseases eligible for a priority review voucher within the FDA, we can incentivize the development and approval of a vaccine or treatment options to contain the virus and ensure that those effected by Zika can seek care.”
The legislation would add Zika to a key U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) program called the Priority Review Voucher Program, which encourages the development of treatments for neglected tropical diseases.
Planning is underway for a Zika virus tabletop exercise to ensure Ohio’s preparedness at the local and state levels prior to the 2016 mosquito season that runs from May to October.
Of people infected with the Zika virus, 80 percent do not have any symptoms. When symptoms occur, they are often mild, lasting from several days to a week, and include fever, rash, joint and muscle pain, conjunctivitis (red eyes), and headache. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon. Due to the possible association between Zika virus infections in pregnant women and certain birth defects, CDC recommends that pregnant women and women trying to get pregnant consider postponing travel to areas with Zika virus transmission.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently labeled Zika a global public health emergency, but right now, there is no known vaccine or treatment for the virus. The most common symptoms of the virus are mild, but in certain cases, reports suggest Zika may be associated with serious birth defects-including microcephaly, which has been linked to developmental delays and other life-threatening problems.
To prevent potential transmission through sexual contact, CDC recommends men with a pregnant sex partner abstain from sexual activity or consistently and correctly use condoms during sex for the duration of the pregnancy. CDC also recommends that pregnant women without symptoms of Zika virus disease be offered testing 2 to 12 weeks after returning from areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission.
The Zika virus has been much more widespread in Latin and South America than in the United States.