Experts: Zika virus not a major threat to Ohio

Despite more cases confirmed Wednesday in Florida and Georgia, experts, including a Miami University researcher, continue to say there is low risk the mosquito-borne Zika virus will become a major problem in the U.S.

On Monday, the World Health Organization warned that an outbreak of Zika in Central and South America was a “public health emergency of international concern.”

The Zika virus is barely detectable in adults, but has devastating effects on unborn children. The virus is blamed in Brazil for the birth in 2015 of more than 4,000 babies with underdeveloped heads and brains, a condition known as microcephaly.

To date, 31 cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in the United States across 12 states. All have been related to travel.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads the Zika virus and also serves as a carrier of dengue fever and chikungunya, is common in Florida and elsewhere in the southern U.S.

“We have the mosquito here, we just don’t have the virus,” said Jerome Goddard, an entimologist at Mississippi State University.

Dhananjai Rao, an assistant professor in the department of computer science and software engineering at Miami University, is working with the Pan American Health Organization to obtain data on chikungunya and using it for forecasting the spread of the Zika virus.

He said people living in Ohio are not at a risk of seeing the Zika virus grow into a major health epidemic.

Melanie Amato, of the Ohio Department of Health, agrees with that assessment.

“It is always important to protect against mosquito bites and to prevent diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, but currently there is limited reason for Ohioans to be concerned about the Zika virus,” she said.

There have been no reported cases of Zika transmission in Ohio, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Dr. Ginger Cameron, Cedarville University professor of pharmacy practice, is an expert on infectious diseases and said it’s important to not overreact to Zika being declared a global emergency, but it’s also very important to pay attention to the facts.

“The virus has actually been around since the 1940s, but we have not ever seen a case in the Americas until 2014 when it landed in Brazil,” Cameron said. “Because of the living conditions in Brazil and because no one in the Americas has immunity from prior exposure, it has spread quickly.”

South Florida is considered susceptible because of a population that regularly travels to some of the two dozen countries — mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean — where there have been outbreaks of Zika.

A U.S. travel alert has been issued for 30 countries recommending that pregnant women not travel to those locations because of the link between Zika and birth defects.

“Don’t risk it, especially if it’s not an emergency,” said Dr. Paola Lichtenberger, an infectious disease expert and Tropical Medicine Director at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine.

This article contains reporting by The Palm Beach Post.

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