The Health Department in Salt Lake County, Utah, has confirmed the death of an individual last month following travel to a region where the Zika virus is an epidemic. This is the first death in the continental United States that has been confirmed to be Zika-related.
In a press conference in early July, health department officials explained that the person, whose gender is undisclosed, was elderly and had underlying health problems. The exact impact that the Zika virus itself had on the tragic death remains unclear.
Dagmar Vitek, MD, Medical Director of Salt Lake County Health Department, states this is an unfortunate reminder of the real dangers that the Zika virus poses. US citizens should obtain proper pre-travel counseling and preventive education before traveling abroad, especially to areas where Zika outbreaks are occurring. The Zika virus is transmitted from person to person by the bite of an infected Aedes mosquito.
More than 1100 people have been diagnosed with Zika in the continental United States, the majority of which were acquired through travel. A healthy individual may exhibit no specific symptoms of after infection with Zika, but the virus can have catastrophic effects in pregnant women, leading to severe birth defects in their babies.
The CDC reports that more than 300 women in the US are infected with the Zika virus. As of June 23 this year, seven babies have been born in the United States with birth defects linked to the Zika virus.