A third Mississippian has contracted the Zika virus while traveling to Haiti, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.
This is the third Zika infection in a Mississippian in less than two weeks. Like the last two cases, this patient, who is a resident of Oktibbeha County, contracted the virus doing mission work in Haiti.
On March 24, the Department of Health reported that a Madison County resident had the virus. On March 25, the department confirmed the virus in a Noxubee County resident. Two of the cases were contracted on the same trip, but the department would not confirm which two cases.
“It’s so important that I point out, with these mission trips, I need people to think about these trips, and if they’re going to go over there, they need to protect themselves,” said Liz Sharlot, director of communications for the Department of Health.
To prevent transmission of the virus, the department recommends anyone traveling to countries where Zika has been actively transmitted — primarily Central and South American and Caribbean countries — do everything they can to avoid mosquito bites. This includes wearing long sleeves, removing standing water from nearby property, using a DEET-based insect repellent and using screens on all windows and doors.
Symptoms of the virus — fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes — are mild and usually last less than a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Eighty percent of Zika cases don’t cause any symptoms.
On Feb. 1, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency after clusters of microcephaly and other neurological disorders surfaced in areas affected by Zika. Although the CDC has not yet confirmed a definitive link between Zika and these disorders, they believe pregnant women who contract the virus are at greater risk of delivering babies with microcephaly, which is characterized by a small skull and incomplete brain development.
As a result, Sharlot said the Department of Health is focused on preventing infection in pregnant women.
“Anybody who is pregnant should not be going to Haiti on a mission trip. Or any Zika affected country,” Sharlot said. “And any woman who wants to have a child or could have a child should also carefully consider that before traveling.”
The virus is primarily transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. But because the virus stays in semen up to 60 days after infection, it can also be transmitted sexually. As a result, the Department of Health says men who have been infected should not have unprotected sex with a pregnant woman for the duration of her pregnancy.
The Aedes aegypti mosquito has not been seen in Mississippi since 1986, so the risk of local transmission is low, according to the Department of Health.
“We are now doing surveillance to see if that is still the case,” Sharlot said. “But we ask people when they come back, just out of an abundance of caution to try to avoid mosquito bites for three weeks.”
Currently, no one has contracted a case of Zika locally in the continental United States. But the CDC has confirmed local infections in several American Territories, including American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Another 312 Americans, 27 of whom are pregnant women, had contracted travel related infections, as of March 30, according to the CDC. Six of these cases were sexually transmitted.