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Zika virus patient is from Nassau County, officials say

Dr. Angela Rocha, pediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz

Dr. Angela Rocha, pediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital, examines Ludmilla Hadassa Dias de Vasconcelos, 2 months old, who has microcephaly, on Jan. 26, 2016, in Recife, Brazil. The Zika virus can cause the birth defect, research suggests. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Mario Tama

One of the three New York patients who has tested positive for the mosquito-borne Zika virus lives in Nassau County, a local health official confirmed Tuesday.

The infection, which can cause serious birth defects, is being spread by mosquitoes in countries throughout many parts of Latin America.

Mary Ellen Laurain, spokeswoman for the Nassau County Department of Health, said a resident had traveled to a country where the infectious agent is proliferating. However, she did not reveal the patient’s gender, age, place of residence or where the patient had traveled. The virus can be passed only from mosquitoes to people, and is not transmissible person-to-person.

The Nassau Zika patient is among three whose cases were announced late last week by State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker. All were said to have contracted the infection while abroad. The other two patients are from Queens and Orange County, health officials say.

Zucker said in a statement that each patient’s blood test was confirmed positive for the mosquito-transmitted infection by the state’s Wadsworth Laboratory in Albany.

Global health experts estimate that only one in five people infected with Zika virus actually get sick. The most common symptoms, they say, are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. Symptoms typically begin two to seven days after being bitten by a carrier mosquito. Aside from the lack of a medication to treat Zika viral infection, there is no vaccine to prevent it.

The key concern is Zika’s propensity to cause severe birth defects, particularly microcephaly, a condition marked by severe brain damage. Thousands of cases have been diagnosed in endemic countries, leading public health officials in Brazil and several other Latin American countries to ask women to avoid pregnancy.

Brazilian health authorities have also linked the infection to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a form of paralysis marked by a turncoat immune response in which the usually protective system attacks and damages the nerves.

Scientists with the World Health Organization describe the virus as native to Africa, where it was first isolated in the 1950s. The pathogen is a member of the flavivirus family, which includes West Nile, dengue and the yellow fever viruses. All are carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. There is no evidence that the virus is being transmitted in New York, Zucker said last week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday added the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic to the list of travel destinations with Zika virus outbreaks.

Previously, the CDC recommended that pregnant women should consider postponing trips to 22 destinations. In Latin America, these countries include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela. In the Caribbean: Barbados, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Martin and Puerto Rico. Also included are Cape Verde, off the coast of western Africa, and Samoa in the South Pacific.

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