New Zika virus cases pop up in 3 states as study finds more linked birth defects

© Nacho Doce
Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee are the latest states to have the Zika virus brought home by travelers returning from South or Central America, or the Caribbean, while a new study has revealed that it may potentially cause more birth defects than suspected.

A 30-year-old Cleveland woman became the first diagnosed case in Ohio, state officials said on Tuesday. Indiana officials similarly reported that another woman had become the state’s first case on the same day, though she was not hospitalized. The women had recently traveled to Haiti and are not pregnant, state officials said.

The age and gender of the first Zika patient in Tennessee remains undisclosed, but officials say the person had returned from South America.

“We have been expecting an imported case of Zika virus disease, and we believe more infections are likely as people travel to and from areas where the disease is currently being transmitted,” the commissioner of the state’s health department, Dr. John Dreyzehner, said in a statement.

Those three states bring the grand total to 13 and the District of Columbia. Altogether, 50 cases of Zika have been diagnosed in the US, all in people who had traveled to one of the 30 countries where the virus is active, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There was also one case of the virus being sexual transmitted in Dallas, Texas.

In a new study published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Ophthalmology, Brazilian researchers reported finding eye problems in 10 out of 29 newborns infected with the Zika virus, for which there is no vaccine or treatment. Retina atrophy, iris discoloration, and lens dislocations were counted among the birth defects, and in seven out of the 10 cases, both eyes were affected.

The study proves the more well-known birth defect known as microcephaly, where a baby’s head and brain don’t fully develop, isn’t the only risk faced by Zika’s most vulnerable victims.

The first Zika outbreak was identified in Brazil in May of last year, and though it is primarily contracted via mosquito bites, it can also be spread through blood transfusions and unprotected sex, as well as to unborn children whose pregnant mothers are infected. The CDC advises men to use condoms or refrain from intercourse with pregnant women if they have traveled to a high risk country recently. It also recommends that pregnant women be tested two to 12 weeks after returning from afflicted regions.

Four out of five people with Zika don’t experience any of its symptoms, which can include fever, rashes, joint pain, muscle pain, red eyes, and headaches – all of which can last up to a week.

On Monday, the CDC’s Emergency Operations Center began operating at its top emergency activation level – Level 1. The last time Level 1 was enacted was during the Ebola crisis of 2014. It was also activated in 2009 in response to H1N1 influenza and in 2005 for Hurricane Katrina.