The Zika virus has spread to Colorado.
State health officials say two people contracted the virus after traveling to a Zika-affected country. Both have since recovered.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 109 travel-related Zika cases have been reported in 26 states.
Additionally, there have been locally-transmitted cases in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.
Health officials say it’s unlikely there will be an outbreak in Colorado, because the virus is spread mainly by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which doesn’t live in Colorado.
It does live along the Gulf Coast and in tropical and subtropical areas of Mexico, Central and South America.
Dr. Kent Heyborne, Chief of Obstetrics at Denver Health, says Zika can also be spread sexually from male to female.
“There are currently 13 cases total (nationally) reported of sexual transmission,” he said. “Some of those are not very well documented. The numbers are very small and I think it will be a minor concern, but we’ll have to wait and see how things unfold.”
Heyborne said they’re getting a lot of questions about the disease and about that particular mode of transmission from pregnant moms-to-be, who are very concerned about reports that Zika can cause birth defects.
“We’re asking every pregnant woman who comes in, if they’ve traveled to an affected country,” he said. “If they have, we’re offering a blood test. If the blood test is positive, we’ll offer ultrasound.”
He said that action is based on the latest CDC recommendations.
The doctor told Denver7 that none of the patients screened have tested positive, but added they’ve only been testing for two or three weeks. He said that’s how long it takes to get test results back.
“This will unfold for all of us over the next few months,” he said.
The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Larry Wolk, said “Colorado is likely to have more cases of Zika in the coming year,” because of the large number of residents who travel out of the country.
Wolk said the CDC is studying all the ways Zika is spread.
Zika is currently spreading with alarming speed across the Americas.
The World Health Organization says at least 34 countries have been hit by the virus in the current crisis, mostly in Latin America.
WHO declared the epidemic to be a global emergency several weeks ago based on suspicions that it was causing a surge in Microcephaly, a condition where the baby’s head is much smaller than expected.
The disease is also being linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological illness that can cause paralysis.
As frightening as those conditions are, Dr. Heyborne said most people who contract Zika won’t even know they have the disease. He said only one in five will have symptoms and for most of them, the symptoms will be minor and could include:
- Joint Pain
- Red Eyes
The symptoms can last for a week or so and then disappear. The patient is then thought to have lifelong immunity.
Because the biggest concern is about possible birth defects, pregnant women are being told to avoid travel to any area where Zika is spreading. If they intend to have sex with a partner who has lived in or traveled to a Zika-affected area, they should use a condom, or not have any sexual activity until after the baby is born.
For more information about Zika, visit the CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment website: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/zika