U.S. healthcare professionals prepare for Zika virus, but say don't panic

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Health officials in Pennsylvania say they've tested six to eight people for the Zika virus, all of whom had recently traveled to affected areas. (WPVI)

Health officials in Pennsylvania say they've tested six to eight people for the Zika virus, all of whom had recently traveled to affected areas.

Now, local healthcare professionals are getting together a plan to contain the virus if it's found here.

Right now, health officials say this is something for which we need to prepare. But it is not something we need to panic about in the United States.

The main concern is for pregnant women who travel.

Stacey Gorski is a biology professor at the University of the Sciences. She says the Zika virus has been around since the late 1940s, but up until now it was considered just a nuisance virus. Now that it's potentially linked to a serious birth defect - babies born with microcephaly (smaller heads), which affects brain development - there is much more concern.

The CDC has advised pregnant women to not travel to areas in South and Central America affected with Zika.

Gorski says take this advice seriously. She tells us, "Just because we don't know so much. And I always would like to say stick with the adage 'better safe than sorry.'"

In most cases, in healthy adults Zika causes mild or no symptoms. But experts say it may now also be linked to Guillain Barre syndrome in adults, which is another cause for concern since the disease causes temporary paralysis.

In terms of a vaccine, Gorski says, "We're at ground zero with research for Zika virus. Very few labs prior to December 2015 were even studying this virus, again because it was so mild."

Because of that she says it will likely take at least a few years to develop a safe and effective vaccine. So many are focusing on mosquito control.

The mosquito that carries Zika isn't typically in our area, but another type that could carry the virus is.

Health officials say they'll be on alert come spring.

Dr. Loren Robinson from Pennsylvania Department of Health says, "We'll be tracking that mosquito, and really all mosquitos in Pennsylvania - all species that is - to see what diseases are being tracked, but specifically we'll be looking for mosquitos carrying the Zika virus as the weather warms up."

Currently, there are 35 cases of Zika in the U.S. - all acquired outside the country. That includes one person in New Jersey who was infected in Colombia.

The Zika virus cannot be spread person to person through casual contact. There has been one case reportedly spread through sexual contact.

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