State confirms Massachusetts Zika virus case
BOSTON — State health officials have confirmed one case of the Zika virus in Massachusetts and said additional cases will not come as a surprise, though the virus cannot be spread from one infected person to others.
"We are aware of one case in Massachusetts, a person who had traveled to an area where we already know Zika is being transmitted," Dr. Larry Madoff, director of the Division of Epidemiology and Immunization at the Department of Public Health, told the News Service on Thursday afternoon. The Centers for Disease Control confirmed the infection on Tuesday, DPH said.
Zika is a mosquito-spread virus that can cause fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis, Madoff said. About 80 percent of people who become infected do not show symptoms, but symptoms generally last up to one week and then go away "without additional problems," he said.
Madoff said the infected person is a man, so there is no concern about the possibility of microcephaly — a fetal malformation that affects the size of a baby's brain and head — which has been linked to Zika infections in pregnant women in South America and Asia. Privacy laws prevent him from disclosing which region of the state the man resides in, Madoff said.
"We were not surprised to see a case, we know a lot of people from our state travel to parts of the world where Zika has been transmitted," he said. "We won't be surprised to see some additional cases."
On Thursday, the head of the World Health Organization said that Zika virus was "spreading explosively" through the Americas and convened an emergency committee to meet in Geneva on Feb. 1 to provide "advice on the appropriate level of international concern and for recommended measures."
The virus had been confined to Africa and Asia until 2015, when it was first discovered on Easter Island, off the coast of South America, Madoff said.
Only people who have or are planning to travel to places with ongoing Zika virus outbreaks are at risk for getting the disease, Madoff said, and the type of mosquito that is known to carry Zika is not generally found in Massachusetts.
"The basic message is there is a possibility you could have been exposed to Zika or any other of the arboviruses by mosquito bite and though most will remain asymptomatic, a few will have symptoms and in all cases we know of people recover uneventfully from these infections," he said. "The one area for concern is someone who was pregnant should get in touch with their health care provider for follow-up."
The Centers for Disease Control has also issued a travel advisory suggesting that pregnant women should postpone travel to South America, Central America, Mexico, Cape Verde, the Caribbean and Samoa.
"Because there are so many unanswered questions about the risk of fetal malformation in pregnant women who develop a Zika virus infection, I think they're the people who should be concerned and be prudent and probably shouldn't travel in areas where Zika virus may be present at this point," Madoff said. "Talk with your health care provider and if you do make the decision to travel, take a lot of precautions against being bitten by a mosquito."