Since it first became a global threat in 2007, Zika has led to more than 1,800 illnesses throughout the United States. Six have been linked directly to mosquito bites, but most have been travel-related, most often acquired overseas. This is thought to be the way that a newborn infant, who was recently confirmed as the second Zika-related death in the United States, contracted the highly feared mosquito virus.
According to Harris County officials, the baby was born with microcephaly, a condition classified by a smaller head and devastating neurological complications, and died shortly after birth because of complications from the condition. Her mother had traveled overseas during her pregnancy and then returned at some point during her second trimester, completely unaware that her baby had been infected with the virus. The baby is the first to suffer a fatality from the illness in Texas, but far from the first to have been infected.
“We are devastated to report our first case of Zika-associated death, and our hearts go out to the family,” the Harris County Public Health Executive Director said in a statement. “While this is a travel-associated case, we know that prevention is key to reducing the risk of Zika virus infection.”
More than 50 countries and territories have had confirmed cases of Zika illness. Most are in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the United States has had its share of cases as well. Texas has confirmed at least 97 cases, but none are thought to have been the direct result of a mosquito bite. Those cases are being linked to Florida, where humidity, the Pacific Ocean, and warm temperatures serve as a hot spot for the tiny Aedes mosquito.
Of course, most people who contract Zika do not become severely ill, or even require hospitalization, but unborn babies seem to be at an especially high risk for complications like those suffered by the baby in Harris County, Texas. At least 15 others have been born with similar defects linked to the Zika virus.
To reduce the risk of injury and illness to their babies, health authorities are urging pregnant mothers to avoid traveling to areas where the mosquitos are known to be present. Furthermore, health experts are encouraging that all U.S. citizens use preventative measures, such as the use of an EPA-registered mosquito repellant containing DEET, IR3535, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Again, this is especially important for pregnant mothers since their unborn babies are at risk.