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February 02, 2016

New Jersey confirms one Zika case; Pennsylvania awaits results on seven blood samples

Another test comes back negative

New Jersey has had one confirmed Zika case and Pennsylvania is awaiting the results of blood tests for seven possible patients, according to those states' respective health departments.

The virus – the spread of which has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization – is linked to birth defects among children born to pregnant women with the disease.

In the New Jersey case, the patient – a woman visiting from Colombia – recovered and returned home before Christmas, said Donna Leusner, director of communications for the New Jersey Department of Health.

"There's no danger to the public here," Leusner said.

Pennsylvania has no confirmed Zika cases, but health workers are awaiting the results of seven blood samples submitted for testing, according to the state Department of Health.

Eleven blood samples from Pennsylvania have been submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Monday. One sample tested negative for the virus while three other samples were rejected because they did not meet CDC standards. The other seven remain pending.

Local transmission of the virus has not been identified in the continental United States, but the disease has sparked concern due to a possible increased risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder that can cause paralysis and microcephaly, a condition affecting the babies of women with Zika in which their children are born with small heads.

Zika, a flu-like disease, is transmitted via infected mosquitos, limiting the chances of an outbreak up north. But the virus has spread rapidly throughout portions of the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

Because there is not a vaccine or medication available to prevent infection, the CDC recommends that all pregnant woman refrain from traveling to infected areas.

Zika outbreaks have occurred in the past, but this marks the first time the disease has been connected to microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome.

Health experts have said an outbreak in the Philadelphia region is unlikely to happen during the winter months because there are not any active mosquitos. But warmer weather could bring greater concerns as mosquito larvae begin to hatch.

The mosquito genus known to carry Zika, Aedes aegypti, is not normally found in New Jersey, according to the state department of environmental protection. Nevertheless, the New Jersey mosquito control agencies will monitor traps for the mosquito, spokesman Lawrence Hajna said.

"Some of the counties that are near ports will probably be stepping up their monitoring efforts in those areas," Hajna said. "According to the CDC, the one possible route into the country is larvae shipped into a port. These mosquitos don't fly very far. They're not going to migrate from Mexico into New Jersey."

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is still evaluating how its mostquito control efforts might be used to combat Zika. 

"We are still evaluating how DEP's planned spraying may be used or expanded to combat this virus," spokesman Neil Shader said. "However, those discussions are still ongoing. Any decisions on control will be based on consultations with DOH and the best available science." 

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