The Tennessee Department of Health today has received confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the first person in the state to test positive for Zika virus disease. The individual had recently traveled to South America before returning to east Tennessee.
“We have been expecting an imported case of Zika virus disease and we believe more infections are likely as people travel to and from areas where the disease is currently being transmitted,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH.
“Zika virus, with its association with the birth defect microcephaly, is understandably scary and has captured all of our attention. But the good news is mosquito bites which transmit Zika are entirely preventable. Because there is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus disease and no specific medical treatment for those who are infected, TDH urges all who may be considering travel to the growing number of countries where there is evidence of the disease being transmitted to have heightened awareness and protect themselves and others from mosquito bites.”
The list of affected areas includes many countries in the Caribbean and South and Central America.
Except in pregnant women, Zika virus is almost always a very mild illness and for most people testing is not necessary. Approximately 80 percent of those infected never show symptoms of the disease while approximately 20 percent show only mild symptoms.
There is no vaccine to prevent infection and no specific antiviral treatment for Zika virus infection. Its most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes.
Pregnant women can be infected with Zika virus in any trimester and there have been increased cases of microcephaly possibly associated with Zika virus infections. Microcephaly is a condition where the head is smaller than normal and may lead to a child experiencing a variety of other health challenges including physical and speech functions, seizure, hyperactivity, coordination problems and other brain/neurological disorders. TDH advises women who are pregnant or of childbearing age to especially understand the risk of contracting Zika virus disease.
“Across Tennessee, thousands of college students, members of faith organizations, healthcare professionals and others are now planning spring trips to warmer locations for either fun or mission work,” said TDH State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD.
“The Tennessee Department of Health cautions travelers headed soon to warmer climates to have an increased awareness about diseases spread by mosquitoes and to make mosquito bite prevention an essential part of their trip planning.”
TDH recommends the following for travelers to protect themselves against mosquitoes:
- Apply repellants to skin often; these can include lotions, liquids or sprays. TDH and CDC recommend the use of repellants which contain DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane 3,8-diol and IR3535. Duration of protection varies by repellant; read labels on products to determine when reapplications are necessary for optimal protection.
- Wear long, loose and light-colored shirts and pants and wear socks. Tucking shirts in pants and tucking pants into socks will help form a barrier. Wear closed shoes or boots instead of sandals.
- Treat clothing with permethrin or purchase clothing pretreated with permethrin.
- In remote locations lacking window screens and/or air conditioning, the use of bed nets is advised. These should reach the floor or be tucked under the mattress.
- Avoid perfumes, colognes and products with fragrances that might attract mosquitoes.
Certain products containing permethrin are recommended for use on clothing, shoes, bed nets and camping gear. Permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills mosquitoes and other pests and retains this effect after repeated washing. Some clothing products are available pretreated with permethrin. It should not be used directly on skin.
TDH urges people who suspect they are infected with a mosquito-borne illness to seek medical help.
“While public health and medical professionals have a good body of knowledge about many mosquito-borne diseases, there is still much to learn about Zika virus disease,” Dreyzehner said. “At present there are still questions about its transmission through sex and other avenues. Pregnant women or people who develop a fever within one week of returning from an affected country should contact their personal healthcare professional for advice.”