BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Now that Erie County health officials have confirmed the county’s first case of the Zika virus, county and state officials are aggressively testing anyone who has recently traveled to a country where the virus is prevalent, and is feeling ill.
To put this recent development into perspective, the instance in Erie County is the latest of more than 50 confirmed cases of Zika virus in the United States, but not one of those infections was contracted here—those patients were all infected in another country and brought back.
The images of the Zika virus are graphic and frightening: babies are infected by the Zika virus in the womb and born with microcephaly–a small head–or other birth defects.
Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein points out, the type of mosquito that carries the Zika virus, Aedes aegyti, isn’t found this far north.
“In February, we don’t have any mosquitoes that could transmit anything, but we are fortunate in Western New York that we don’t have the strain of mosquitoes that can transmit the Zika virus.”
Because other instances of Zika have been confirmed in New York, state health officials are aggressively testing for the virus and those tests are free of charge.
“Anyone who is eligible for testing can be tested free,” said Dr. Bruce Rodgers, director of the Fetal Testing Unit at Sisters of Charity Hospital. “That includes women who are pregnant and who have traveled to endemic areas.”
Dr. Rodgers said screening for the Zika virus consists of a simple blood test, unless you are exhibiting some of the symptoms associated with the disease.
“If you are symptomatic, there is a bit more testing. If you have just traveled to an endemic area, the testing is a little more straight forward. The turnaround time would probably be 7 to 14 days.”
But Dr. Rodgers pointed out, there are promising new developments on the Zika front. Researchers have found babies born to infected mothers in Colombia, and in each case, the infants were free of microcephaly.
“Where they have studied hundreds of women who were pregnant and actually tested positive for the virus, and they have not had any cases of microcephaly, so that is very encouraging.”
Dr. Rodgers added, the Colombia study needs more research, and there is speculation the cause could be environmental. Conditions linked to microcephaly include environmental factors, such as poisoning.