The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) today announced the first confirmed case of Zika virus in the state. The individual who tested positive, a male in his 60s, had recently traveled to Haiti, where there is active mosquito-borne transmission of Zika.
"We have been closely monitoring the Zika situation internationally and have been coordinating with Rhode Island healthcare providers for months. We were fully prepared for this first case," said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "While the risk to the public is very low, we are coordinating with doctors, especially those who work with pregnant women, on how best to identify symptoms and educate patients about prevention."
Measures that RIDOH has taken to prepare include: • Established a Zika Task Force that includes fetal medicine specialists from Women & Infants Hospital in February; • Issuing regular briefs to Rhode Island healthcare providers with updated guidance and information on symptoms and specimen collection; • Coordinating patient specimen collection and shipment to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and • Coordinating with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for increased mosquito surveillance and larvaciding. Zika is spread primarily through bites from infected mosquitoes. It can also be spread sexually.
"We don't expect locally-acquired cases here because the species of mosquitos that are currently known to transmit Zika are not found in Rhode Island," said Dr. Alexander-Scott. "However, Rhode Islanders who are pregnant or are considering becoming pregnant should avoid travel to countries where there is active transmission of the virus."
The virus causes symptoms including fever, rash, joint pain, headache, muscle pain, and conjunctivitis (pink eye). Approximately 80% of those who have the virus do not have any symptoms. Symptoms typically appear within three to 14 days of infection.
Zika is also associated with pregnant women giving birth to babies with microcephaly and other birth defects. Microcephaly is condition when a baby's head is smaller than expected. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that have not developed properly.
Pregnant women or women who are considering pregnancy and have potential for exposure to Zika (from either a mosquito or a sexual partner) should seek counseling from their healthcare providers.
In January, RIDOH first alerted healthcare providers to consider Zika virus in symptomatic patients who had recently traveled to areas with active mosquito-borne Zika virus transmission. Since February 1, 2016, RIDOH has been submitting specimens to CDC for testing. The Rhode Island State Health Laboratories are currently developing the capacity to test for Zika virus in accordance with CDC protocols.
To prevent exposure to Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases, especially while traveling to areas with active mosquito-borne Zika transmission, people should:
• Use and reapply Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved bug spray containing at least 20% DEET. • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. • Use permethrin-treated clothing and gear. • Stay in buildings that use air conditioning, or have window and door screens. • Sleep under a mosquito net.
According to the CDC, Massachusetts has had 7 similar travel-associated cases, and Connecticut has had 1. More information about Zika virus disease is available at the Department of Health's website. A list of countries with active-transmission is available on the RIDOH's website. They are primarily in Latin America and the Caribbean.