Will Zika virus be a Pennsylvania problem?

HARRISBURG, Pa (WHTM) — The probability of the feared Zika virus reaching epidemic proportions in Pennsylvania is unlikely, according to experts.

“We may see one or two small outbreaks across the country, but I would be surprised if its even that,” says Dr. John Goldman, Infectious Disease Specialist at PinnacleHealth. “The type of mosquito that can transmit Zika has occasionally been found in the far southern section of Pennsylvania, but it’s very rare.”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the species of mosquito, known as Aedus Aegypti, was last detected in 2002 in suburban Philadelphia.

“So we’re not necessarily worried about that type of mosquito invading Pennsylvania,” says DEP spokesman John Repetz.

But while the probability of a midstate breakout is low, especially during the winter months when mosquitoes are absent, both medical and environmental officials are keeping an eye on Zika cases elsewhere. On Tuesday in Dallas County, Texas, the Centers for Disease Control confirmed the first case of Zika transmitted from person to person through sexual contact. Its alleged a male patient contracted the virus during contact with a female who had been infected with the virus on a recent trip to Venezuela.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if its sexually transmitted,” says Goldman. “We know that other viral illnesses, for example Ebola, can be sexually transmitted. On the other hand, if it is sexually transmitted, it is not going to be the main way it is transmitted.”

The outbreaks that have reached epidemic proportions in Central and South America, are blamed predominantly on mosquito bites. While most people infected with Zika will exhibit no symptoms, others will only experience brief flu like symptoms, or a rash. In some cases, pregnant women, or women who have become pregnant while infected with Zika, have given birth to infants with abnormally small heads, a birth defect known as microcephaly.

“What we’ve been routinely recommending is that women who are either thinking of conceiving, or are actually pregnant, not to travel to any of the areas where the Zika virus is common,” adds Goldman.

For now, the DEP will take a “wait and see” approach, according to Repetz. “Once we get into the mosquito season, we have the monitoring protocol already in place,” he says, referring to Pennsylvania’s long-standing program aimed at controlling mosquitoes that can carry West Nile Virus.

“They’re collected in a bag, and the bag is taken to the lab, and they’re separated,” says Repetz. “They look to see what type of species is present.”

If known Zika carrying mosquito species are detected, Repetz says the DEP will coordinate with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to enact any response.

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