By Raymond Arke | The Duquesne Duke
With officials in Texas reporting the first case of Zika contracted in the United States, Duquesne University is taking precautions to protect its students and staff.
A Feb. 1 email from the university to all students announced that Duquesne has cancelled all trips to regions infected with the virus “for the immediate future.” The university also cautioned students to avoid spring break trips to those regions, which include large portions of South America, the southern tip of North America and some countries in west Africa.
Duquesne Health Services Director Dessa Mrvos said Zika, which the World Health Organization has linked to birth defects, has been referred to as the most significant global health concern since Ebola. She said the health staff at Duquesne plan to take it seriously.
However, epidemiologist Kristen Mertz of the Allegheny County Health Department said Pittsburgh should be safe geographically, since the virus is carried by mosquitos in warm, humid climates.
“Right now, Zika is only a danger to women who are pregnant and who have visited Central and South America,” Mertz said. “We have good mosquito control [in Pennsylvania] compared with the regions that are being infected.”
Zika presents mild symptoms of rash, red eye, fever, and joint pain. However, WHO officials have announced a possible link between the virus and the birth defect microcephaly, which causes smaller heads and possible mental defects in babies.
The Center for Disease Control is also investigating a possible link to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which causes a person’s immune system to attack itself, harming nerve cells and creating muscle weakness, according to the CDC website.
The agency reported that only one in five people infected by Zika experience symptoms. There is no vaccine, but most people recover quickly.
Reuters reports that some 3,700 cases have emerged in Brazil since May 2015. Zika cases are now being reported in 23 countries in the Americas, including the United States.
According to Dr. Ernesto Marques of Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research, health workers are trying to slow the spread of Zika by spraying insecticide in mosquito-infested areas.
“At this moment it is critical to determine clearly the modes of transmission of this virus,” Marques said.