First cases of Zika virus detected in Arkansas, Virginia

A transmission electron micrograph (TEM) shows the Zika virus, in an undated photo provided by the Centers For Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. © CDC / Cynthia Goldsmith
The Arkansas Department of Health has just confirmed a resident has tested positive for Zika Virus. Another case was confirmed in Virginia, according to the Associated Press.

The US Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) told the department late yesterday afternoon that the infected Arkansas resident recently traveled out of the country and had “a mild case of Zika.”

In Virginia, the state health department said an individual who was recently overseas also contracted the virus, AP reported. Others are not at risk from this unidentified person, officials said, due to the lack of mosquitoes in the winter months.

Still, the state cautioned travelers who may want to escape cold temperatures for warmer climates to check travel alerts before leaving the country.

Meanwhile, the CDC said it was adding the US Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic to its Zika virus travel alerts, according to Reuters.

Originally discovered in Africa in the 1940s, the relatively-new disease first appeared in Brazil in May 2005.

According to the Arkansas health department's statement, the virus has since spread to at least 20 countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

“Arkansas residents traveling to Central or South America or the Caribbean, where Zika is present, should take precautions against mosquitoes. If you are pregnant, consider postponing your trip,” said Dr. Nate Smith, Arkansas Department of Health Director and State Health Officer.

He added that Arkansas mosquitoes are the kind that can carry Zika if they bite someone who is infected.

People who travel to countries where the disease is known are urged to take precautions against mosquito bites for ten days following their return.

Travelers should also contact their doctor upon their arrival home if they experience symptoms within three to seven days.

Zika is contracted through mosquito bites and has also been detected in human seman, but cannot be spread by human contact.

Symptoms are mild and include fever, rash, joint pain, and red, itchy eyes. However, Brazil’s Ministry of Health has previously said that sometimes people infected with the virus can go without symptoms. 

Pregnant women are most at risk, as the virus has been linked to serious birth defects. The disease has gained international attention in recent weeks because of the increase in infected cases.

In Brazil alone, nearly 4,000 babies born to women infected with Zika had microcephaly, a neurological disorder which affects the size of the baby’s head. That’s a huge increase from 2014, when only 146 babies were affected.

There is currently no vaccine or treatment for the disease.

This is not the first case of Zika virus entering the US. Back as early as 2007, one American traveller was infected with the disease.

According to Scientific American, since then there have been over two dozen cases of travelers who contracted the virus from about a 12 countries around the world.

READ MORE:Zika virus: What you need to know about the latest global health scare