Hawaii health officials worried about threat from Zika virus

Hawaii health officials worried about potential threat from Zika virus
Published: Jan. 19, 2016 at 11:24 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2016 at 4:07 PM HST
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Dr. Vivek Nerurkar
Dr. Vivek Nerurkar
Dr. Sarah Park
Dr. Sarah Park

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the Big Island deals with the dengue fever outbreak, another mosquito-borne illness is causing concern for state health officials.

They're urging people to be vigilant to prevent the spread of the Zika virus to the islands. The virus has recently been linked to a birth defect called microcephaly, in which children are born with an abnormally small head and underdeveloped brain.

Department of Health State epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park described adult symptoms of the Zika infection as a milder form of dengue fever.

"It presents very similarly with a fever, with headache, especially pain behind the eyeballs, sometimes redness of the eyes and aches and pains, sometimes a full body rash," said Dr. Park.

The Zika infection has reached outbreak levels in Brazil, where more than 3,500 women had babies born with microcephaly in 2015. The previous average was 163 cases a year.

A baby whose mother had a Zika infection was recently born on Oahu with microcephaly. Park said the mother likely had a Zika infection when she was living in Brazil in May 2015.

"We know from the confirmation from CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there's evidence of past infection which means the baby was infected while the baby was still in the womb and resolved that infection, the actual virus and infection itself, unfortunately with damage as a result," Dr. Park said.

Park said neither the baby nor the mother are infectious, and there was never a risk of transmission in Hawaii. There is no vaccine to prevent Zika.

The CDC is urging pregnant women to avoid traveling to 14 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean with active Zika virus transmission.

Hawaii is vulnerable because of international travelers and two species of mosquitoes found in the state that can transmit the virus.

"It is something that is of concern and something that they're going to have to continue to aggressively look for," said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. "They are going to have to work doubly hard to continue to trap mosquitoes and look for presence of the virus and to do some sentinel studies to see whether people are actually getting infected with the virus."

Meanwhile, University of Hawaii researchers started developing research tools to diagnose the virus two weeks ago.

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