Healthcare

CDC: Big Zika virus outbreak unlikely in US

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U.S. health officials on Thursday sought to reassure the public that a large outbreak of Zika virus in the United States is unlikely.

{mosads}“Any outbreaks of Zika in the continental United States will likely be limited,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters. 

The virus has been sweeping through South and Central America, leading the CDC to warn pregnant women against traveling to several countries. While the symptoms of Zika are generally mild, it has been linked to birth defects.

U.S. officials said they would not be surprised if there are isolated instances of Zika in the United States. The virus is transmitted by mosquito bites, and they pointed out that other mosquito-borne viruses, dengue and chikungunya, have been limited to small outbreaks at the southern tips of Florida and Texas. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that a widespread outbreak in the U.S. is “not something that we expect to see, based on the experience with dengue and chikungunya.”

Officials pointed out that the U.S. has more widespread use of air conditioning and window screens, as well as a less dense population, compared to areas in South and Central America where there are larger outbreaks of mosquitoes transmitting the virus. 

Still, officials noted that the situation is constantly changing and said they were preparing for a large outbreak as well. “We will remain vigilant,” Schuchat said. 

White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday sought to differentiate the situation from the scare over Ebola in fall 2014, saying there are “a number of significant differences between the Ebola virus and the Zika virus.”

He noted that while Ebola is deadly, “it’s important for people to understand that if you’re a man or you’re not pregnant, that the impact of the [Zika] virus is relatively mild.”

Still, the White House has been stepping up its efforts on communication about the virus with the public and seeking to show that it’s preparing. 

The White House released a photograph on Tuesday of President Obama meeting with his advisors to discuss the virus. 

Schuchat of the CDC said Thursday that there have been 31 cases of Zika virus in the United States since last year, but that all of them are from people who traveled abroad. There has yet to be a case of a mosquito transmitting the virus in the continental United States.

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