ATLANTA, Ga. - The CDC says there were 31 cases of Zika virus here in the U.S. in 2015, in travelers coming back into the country from areas where the virus is being transmitted. Here in Georgia, state epidemiologist Dr. Cherie Drenzek, DVM, says the CDC is testing several specimens from Georgia residents who've also travelled to the affected areas.
"We fully expect we will confirm travel-related Zika infections here in Georgia and probably every other state as well," says Dr. Drenzek.
Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites, and can't be transmitted from person to person. But, while the World Health Organization says the virus is spreading "explosively" across South and Central America and the Caribbean.
"What's important to remember is that we haven't documented any local transmission here in the United States,” Dr. Drenzek says. “So what that means is that the primary risk still is for travellers to affected areas, particularly pregnant women."
The concern for women who are pregnant -- or women of child-bearing age -- is the Zika virus may cause serious birth defects.
In Brazil, which has been particularly hard-hit by Zika virus, about 4,000 babies have been born with abnormally small heads - some with brain damage - a rare condition known as microcephaly. And with no treatment or vaccine for the virus, the CDC is urging pregnant women to postpone travel to the 20+ affected countries and territories.
“If they cannot postpone their trip and they must travel to these areas, they should practice very strict mosquito bite avoidance techniques,” says Dr. Drenzek.
Since the Aedes mosquito that carries Zika virus is already here in Georgia, and mosquitoes spread other diseases like West Nile Virus, Drenzek we should all take steps to avoid getting bitten.
Those include wearing long-sleeves and long pants, to cover exposed skin, and using EPA-approved insect repellant. “Also be sure to look at areas where mosquitoes may breed around your home,” says Dr. Drenzek. “They often breed in containers containing water. So being sure to dump out water."