LOS ANGELES – County health officials on Tuesday urged travelers to Latin America, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico, especially pregnant women, to take precautions to protect themselves from contracting a mosquito-borne virus that can cause birth defects.
The Zika virus outbreak is ongoing in nearly two dozen countries, including the Mexico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
No transmission of the disease has been reported in the United States. However, there has been one confirmed case of the virus in Los Angeles County — in an adolescent girl who traveled to El Salvador in late November. Health officials said she has recovered.
The species of mosquito that can transmit Zika is present in the San Gabriel Valley and the eastern part of the county.
“At this time, local transmission is unlikely,” according to a Los Angeles County Department of Public Health statement issued Tuesday. “It would require an Aedes mosquito biting a Zika infected person and then biting others.”
Local health officials said they are continuing “surveillance to identify any potentially infected travelers returning to the county.”
The county’s top health official advised travelers to use bug spray approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants or clothing specially treated to avoid mosquito bites.
“Pregnant women should avoid travel to the areas where the outbreak is ongoing, if possible,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the county’s interim health officer.
The disease has been linked to miscarriages and microcephaly — which can cause serious developmental delays and babies born with abnormally small heads — though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website notes that additional studies of such reports, initially out of Brazil, are needed.
As of Jan. 26, Zika-affected countries and territories included Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Martin, Suriname, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“Because the Aedes species mosquitoes that spread Zika virus are found throughout the world, including the U.S., it is anticipated that outbreaks will spread to new countries,” the DPH statement says.
For those who are not pregnant, about one in five will get sick, according to the CDC. Symptoms, including fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis, typically begin two to seven days after being bitten. Some people experience no symptoms.
People can reduce the spread of the Aedes mosquito — and the risk of other mosquito-borne diseases such as chikungunya and dengue — by eliminating standing water around their homes where mosquitoes may breed.