Doctors warn the Zika virus could spread as weather warms up

Doctors warn the Zika virus could spread as weather warms up

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show more than 400 Americans have been infected with Zika virus from traveling.

So far no cases have been caught here in the United States. But that could change.

Doctors and scientists warn the Zika virus could spread into the Northern Hemisphere as the weather warms up.

Scientists just discovered a second mosquito can carry the virus. The Asian Tiger mosquito can be found as far north as Ohio and Maine.

Cleveland 19 News wanted to know if Northeast Ohio is prepared if Zika virus winds up here.

Zika virus has now been linked to cases of microcephaly in babies and Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

It may seem far away, since most cases so far have been in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

We spoke to experts to see if Zika virus could become a problem here in Northeast Ohio.

"The type of mosquito we have here in Ohio, the Asian Tiger mosquito, could that carry Zika virus? Potentially it can. Are we expecting it to? The answer is no," said Dr. Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital.

Dr. Esper says the chances are low that there could be a Zika virus outbreak in this area, but that doesn't mean we're in the clear.

It turns out people can pass the virus to mosquitoes.

"People come back, they can have the virus in their blood and get bitten by a mosquito. Then they can give that mosquito the virus who can then start passing it around to other people who can give it to more mosquitoes and then you start seeing a swell," Dr. Esper said.

You may have heard many of the warnings regarding the Zika virus, which seem to focus on women. But Dr. Esper says men need to be aware of the virus's effect on them too.

He says men carrying the virus can carry it in their semen and pass it along to women through sex.

"They actually now have guidelines as to how long you need to abstain from sex if your male partner comes back from Central and South America -- how long should you abstain from sex? If you are pregnant, it's the entire pregnancy. If you're about to become pregnant and he had symptoms, it may be upward of six months," Dr. Esper said.

Scientists have confirmed that pregnant women who catch Zika virus could be at high risk for having babies born with microcephaly.

Cleveland 19 News asked what women who are trying to get pregnant right now need to know about the virus.

Even if you get the virus, as long as it passes out of your body before you become pregnant, doctors say you should be fine.

"So the Zika virus doesn't stay in your body. It's not something like it's a ticking time bomb. And unfortunately, that's been the sense for a lot of people who have come to talk to me about Zika virus is they feel that if you get infected, that means you're infected for life. And this is—we have no info that suggests that at all," Dr. Esper said.

So is Northeast Ohio prepared for cases of Zika virus?

Dr. Esper says an action plan is already in place with the Ohio Department of Health.

Local hospitals have a list of tests they need to run if the Zika virus is suspected in a patient and the Ohio Department of Health is ready to receive samples to confirm any possible cases.

We checked in with the Cuyahoga County Board of Health to see how concerned they are about the virus.

"Fortunately here in Northeast Ohio for what we know now, we don't expect Zika to be much of an impact," said program manager Joe Lynch.

Lynch says their goal is to keep the public informed and prepared.

But he says other mosquito-borne viruses are more pressing.

"With Zika virus, they are finding people who are becoming ill from it, but very few fatalities. Whereas the other side with West Nile Virus, we have numerous cases a year usually associated with a few fatalities. So that's why we can't put all of our eggs in one basket and look at what's going on with Zika but we need to constantly look out for WNV also," Lynch said.

If people in our area catch the Zika virus, the Cuyahoga County Health Department may do site visits to make sure their properties are not attracting more mosquitoes -- which could spread the virus.

This is something he recommends everyone checks on this time of year: Make sure you have no standing water in your yard, in tires, gutters or children's toys.

Also make sure your window and door screens are secure.

Experts say our infrastructure and mosquito control measures like spraying make it less likely Zika virus would spread here as badly as it has in other countries.

"Just because we have a mosquito that could transmit Zika here in the U.S. doesn't mean that we're going to get Zika in the U.S. There's a lot of mosquito-borne diseases that exist around the world and could be transmitted here in the U.S. and are not," said Dr. Esper.

Only one in five people with the Zika virus will get symptoms and actually realize they're sick.

There is no vaccine yet. But right now over a dozen U.S. pharmaceutical companies are working to create one.

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