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Arizona Public Health Officials Prepare for Zika Virus

Public health officials say the Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitos. (Wikimedia Commons)
Public health officials say the Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitos. (Wikimedia Commons)
February 1, 2016

TUCSON, Ariz. - Public health officials say they have not had any reported cases of the Zika virus in Arizona, but officials with the state Department of Health say the disease is rampant in Latin America, and there's concern the virus could quickly spread north.

Heidi Brown, an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona College of Public Health, cautions against panic. She says the Centers for Disease Control and state officials are taking the right steps.

"There's enough media about this that I think physicians and other agencies are cognizant of this and all of a sudden, Zika is becoming part of the differential diagnosis and asking that travel history question when there's something that's a little bit off," says Brown.

Zika is believed to cause severe birth defects in children born to women infected by the virus. There have been about 30 cases identified in other states in people who have recently traveled to southern Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Brown says the Zika virus can be transmitted by the yellow fever mosquito and the Asian tiger mosquito, both of which can be found in Arizona. She says scientists haven't seen instances of human-to-human transmission, but says infected mosquitoes can spread the virus quickly.

"We have to have a human in the area that's infected, that is then infecting the mosquitoes in the area," says Brown. "And those mosquitoes have to successfully find a human host that is susceptible to the disease, and take the blood from that individual and then infect them."

The CDC has issued a travel alert advising women who are pregnant or are considering becoming pregnant to avoid traveling to any of the infected regions. Arizona health officials say pregnant women should take precautions against exposure to mosquitoes by wearing long sleeves and long pants, and keeping windows closed.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ