Experts don't expect outbreak here

Pete Iwen, director of the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory, shows off some of the technology that will be used to test for the Zika virus. Iwen said the lab probably wouldn't be able to run such tests until summer.


Following two reports of the Zika virus in Nebraska, public health officials provided more information Friday on who should be concerned and under what circumstances.

Dr. Mark Rupp, an infectious diseases specialist at Nebraska Medical Center, said that despite the two cases in Sarpy and Douglas Counties, health officials aren't expecting "a significant problem of spread in our area."

"But we do want people to know about this and take the appropriate precautions," he said.

At a separate press conference earlier in the day, Douglas County health officials released more information about the two women in Nebraska infected with the Zika virus and urged people with symptoms who have visited Zika-affected countries to visit their health-care providers.

Only one in five affected adults shows symptoms, including high fever, red eyes, muscle aches and rash, but Zika has possible links to birth defects.

Adi Pour, director of the Douglas County Health Department, said pregnant women in particular who have traveled or plan to travel to Zika-affected countries as well as women who have sexual relationships with men who have visited those countries should be cautious.

Anyone developing symptoms within two weeks of returning to Nebraska from a Zika-affected area should notify his or her physician, said Shavonna Lausterer, director of the Sarpy/Cass Department of Health and Wellness.

Pour said she could not disclose whether either of the two affected Nebraska women are pregnant. The women, both in their 20s, are believed to have contracted the virus by mosquito bite while traveling.

Both showed symptoms, visited their health care providers and tested positive for the virus.

The blood tests were sent to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab in Fort Collins, Colorado. Pour said the testing process at this time takes "up to two weeks easily."

Neither of the Nebraska women were hospitalized. Pour said both were advised to rest, drink plenty of fluids and take anti-fever medication while symptoms were present.

The virus generally leaves the bloodstream within two weeks, Pour said.

The two women were not traveling together. One visited the Caribbean and the other traveled to South America.

Pour said mosquitoes in Nebraska will be tested in the spring and summer to see if there are carriers of the virus in the state.

Rupp, during a press conference at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said, however, that conditions here aren't right for mosquitoes that carry Zika to survive. The main concern, he said, is people traveling south to places with reported active transmission and bringing the virus back.

Because there's no treatment or vaccine for Zika, Rupp said prevention is the best option. He said those traveling to places like South America and Mexico should wear long sleeves and pants, sleep behind mosquito nets and stay in air-conditioned rooms. Pour suggested using mosquito repellents containing DEET. Other health officials have suggested wearing clothing with the chemical permethrin on it.

Women of child-bearing ages should visit the affected areas only if diligent about birth control. In addition, men should take precautions upon returning from these countries after documented cases in which the Zika virus was spread sexually, exclusively male to female. Rupp advised men to abstain from sex or use contraception for one to three months if they believe they have the virus.

Rupp said it is far from sure that the likely outcome of Zika is microcephaly, a condition in which children are born with incomplete brain development.

Microcephaly was reported in 4,738 Brazilian babies born from women who reported symptoms of Zika virus. But with 1.5 million cases of Zika in Brazil, Rupp said it looks like the outcome of microcephaly is rare. "Most pregnant women won't pass it on."

Pete Iwen, director of the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory, said the lab is in the process of training staff and acquiring materials to test for the virus here. Once the lab is able to test for Zika, Iwen said results will have faster turnaround. He doesn't expect the lab to start doing the tests before summer.

Until then, lab officials are training general physicians around Nebraska on proper sample-taking methods.


Experts Mark Rupp and Pete Iwen discuss the recent transmission and testing for the Zika virus in Nebraska and show the Nebraska Public Health

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