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South Carolina confirms first case of Zika virus

A mosquito from the genus Aedes, which can carry Zika virus.
A mosquito from the genus Aedes, which can carry Zika virus. TNS

The first South Carolinian has tested positive for the Zika virus.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control announced Friday that the case was confirmed in a person who recently traveled to a country where the Zika virus is active.

However, the agency would not release any information about the patient because of confidentiality concerns, including the person’s gender and where he or she lives. Officials also would not identify the country or region where the patient traveled.

Dr. Teresa Foo, a DHEC medical consultant, said the patient developed symptoms while traveling and, upon returning to home, consulted a health care provider.

“The individual did not have symptoms and was not contagious by the time they returned,” she said.

The patient is not quarantined and poses no danger of spreading the virus, even if bitten by mosquitoes, DHEC officials said.

DHEC and the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have tested 105 people in South Carolina for the Zika virus, with one positive case, 99 negative and five pending. The patient who tested positive consulted with a health care provider earlier this month and the results of testing by DHEC and confirmation by the CDC were received Thursday night, DHEC spokesman Robert Yanity said.

All of the people tested have traveled to countries with active transmission of the disease, and they live in various regions of the state, Foo said.

Health authorities have said the virus is spreading “explosively” through the Americas. The World Health Organization has estimated the virus will infect 4 million people in the hemisphere by year’s end, according to The Washington Post.

Local doctors and disease experts have said an outbreak of the Zika virus in South Carolina is possible, but not probable. The virus has the most serious effect on pregnant women, causing children to be born with small heads or hardened spots on their brains.

Pregnant women who have recently traveled to Mexico, Central and South America or some Caribbean islands are warned to be aware of symptoms of the virus. Any pregnant woman planning to travel to areas where the virus has spread should either cancel plans or take precautions to avoid being bitten by the aggressive mosquito that spreads the virus. The Zika virus is spread to people through bites from the aedes aegypti, or yellow fever, mosquito.

Symptoms of the disease are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, or red eyes.

The agency emphasized that mosquitoes in South Carolina do not carry the Zika virus at this time. While the aedes aegypti mosquito is only found in small numbers in the Lowcountry, another potential carrier, aedes albopictus, is considered to be abundant throughout the state.

Mosquitos are an extra concern this year because of the lingering effects of last fall’s historic flooding combined with an unseasonably warm and wet winter have created ideal breeding conditions for the insect.

DHEC encouraged everyone, as a routine precaution, to protect themselves against mosquito bites.

Mosquitoes in some other countries carry the virus and transmit it through biting. When traveling to any country with active Zika transmission, travelers should take steps to prevent mosquito bites, such as using insect repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants or staying inside.

Most people infected with the Zika virus do not have any symptoms, according to the agency. Often, symptoms of Zika infection can be mild, yet last as long as one week.

The Zika virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus, and infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defect of the brain called microcephaly and other severe birth defects. The CDC recommends that all women who are pregnant should not travel to areas abroad where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.

Zika facts

▪ Learn more about Zika at www.scdhec.gov/Zika.

▪ Read CDC’s travel health notices at www.cdc.gov/travel/notices.

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