MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – As the first case of the Zika virus is reported in Texas by the Centers for Disease Control, local doctors urge everyone to be aware and take precaution.
Researchers are still compiling data to learn more about how mosquitoes spread the virus, how sexual partners can spread it to one another, and how pregnant mothers can pass it to unborn babies. In many cases in South America, babies born with microcephaly is being tied to the Zika virus. Microcephaly results in underdeveloped brains, smaller heads, and developmental delays.
"Because those babies with microcephaly are testing positive for the Zika virus, we do know that mothers are passing it and transmitting it to the baby," said Dr. Jessica Brown, with Magnolia OB/GYN. "Now, whether that happens every single time a mother is infected with the Zika virus, we don't know for sure yet."
Anyone can get this virus, but Brown says only one in five will ever realize they have it. The Zika virus has symptoms of a mild fever, rash, and joint pain for two days to a week. And symptoms typically surface a week or two after traveling to an affected area. But some people do not show any symptoms. The uncertainty doctors and researchers are concerned about revolves around how the virus is passed on and the other diseases it could trigger for the most vulnerable, from infants to the elderly.
Dr. John Yannessa is an associate professor of public health at Coastal Carolina University. He explained that the World Health Organization declared the global health emergency in order to trigger medical and financial support for the rural countries fighting the Zika virus on epidemic proportions. Doctors in those countries need medical equipment, researchers need more support to create a vaccine, and communities need more preventative products like mosquito nets.
As of Wednesday morning, cases of the Zika virus are confirmed in 28 countries and there are travel warnings for 20 countries. It is the aedes aegypti mosquito that is transmitting this virus. This breed of mosquito lives in tropical regions. Yannessa said Myrtle Beach does not have the proper environment for those mosquitoes to migrate here and survive. But places like southern Florida could eventually see some mosquitoes carrying the virus.
So if you travel to any affected areas, avoid all mosquitoes by using repellent, wearing long sleeves and pants, and sleeping under a mosquito net. Brown explained these mosquitoes are more active during daylight hours, so consider staying indoors during the day. Pregnant women should take extra precaution.
"We certainly don't want our pregnant patients or patients that are attempting conception to be going to these areas," said Brown. "If you can, postpone your travel until we just know about this type of virus."
Some cruise liners and airlines are offering vouchers for any pregnant women with scheduled trips to affected areas.
If you traveled to an affected country and are experiencing symptoms, or you had sexual contact with someone who did, you should consider getting tested. Your doctor or a local hospital will draw samples of blood and send them to the CDC for special testing. If you are pregnant, you will need to do extra ultrasounds throughout your pregnancy to monitor the health of your baby.
As of Wednesday morning, three blood samples in South Carolina were sent to the CDC, but they all tested negative for the Zika virus.