Health officials warn of local United States Zika transmission as summer approaches

By Rose Minutaglio
Updated May 23, 2016 02:00 PM
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Credit: Ricardo Mazalan/AP

Mosquitos carrying the Zika virus could infect Americans in the United States as soon as this summer, a public health official warns.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all 544 Zika cases currently reported in the United States thus far have been travel-associated – no locally acquired vector-borne cases have been recorded.

But that could change quickly as mosquito populations rise this summer.

“The concern is that we will have local transmission; in other words, people who get infected in the United States, get bitten by a mosquito, but who have never left the continental United States. We fully expect that will happen as we get to the more robust mosquito season in the next month or so,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC‘s “This Week” on Sunday.

There are 279 suspected pregnant women infected with the Zika virus in the United States – 157 cases are being monitored in the 50 states, including District of Columbia and 122 cases are in U.S. territories like Puerto Rico.

These high figures, released on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are more than double what previous reports stated. The rise in cases reflects a new CDC case definition that includes all women who have tested positive for Zika or for likely antibodies to it, according to The New York Times.

“CDC wants to make sure we are monitoring all women at risk for poor outcomes,” Dr. Denise J. Jamieson, a co-leader of the pregnancy and birth defects team at the CDC, told the news outlet.

Only a small percentage of the 279 women with Zika in the U.S. clearly became infected from sexual transmission, rather than from a mosquito bite.

A majority of the women are still pregnant, and fewer than a dozen have experienced congenital complications such as microcephaly, reports The New York Times.

RELATED: Florida Mom Suspects Zika Virus Caused Her 18-Year-Old Son’s Debilitating Birth Defect

Earlier this year, President Obama requested $1.9 billion in funding to fight the virus. Zika funding bills have since passed both the House and Senate, though neither matched the President’s desired request.

“This is something that is solvable. It is not something that we have to panic about, but it is something we have to take seriously. And if we make a modest investment on the front end, then this is going to be a problem that we don’t have to deal with on the back end,” Obama said after meeting with national health officials on Friday.

As the warm summer months approach, health officials say covering up and using bug spray are good ways to avoid mosquito bites.

The CDC suggests wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and taking measures to control mosquitos outside your home. Insect repellent should include either DEET, picaridin, IR3535, lemon eucalyptus oil or para-menthane-diol. There are many EPA-approved sprays deemed safe for pregnant women.

For more information on how to stay away from mosquitos, click here.