The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals announced Thursday that it is investigating two suspected cases of the Zika virus in people who had recently traveled to a Caribbean country.
Lab tests were positive for the virus that has been sweeping through South and Central American countries since May.
Neither of the Louisiana patients became sick enough to be hospitalized, and samples from each have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to confirm the results.
As of Wednesday, there have been 52 travel-associated cases of Zika in the United States with no cases so far of someone getting the disease locally, according to the CDC. The two cases are the only ones in Louisiana so far, but DHH is monitoring several more people who recently traveled to the same region. None of the people are pregnant.
Louisiana is the 17th state to report travel-acquired Zika so far, according to the CDC.
In Brazil, health officials noticed an increase in the number of babies with a birth defect from women who had contracted Zika.
This birth defect, known as microcephaly, results in a baby with a smaller than normal head.
Until more is known, the CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women to postpone travel to Zika outbreak areas, and the World Health Organization declared Zika a public health emergency of international concern on Feb. 1.
Zika is transmitted through mosquito bites, although there now has been at least one documented case of transmission through sexual contact.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard said there are several reasons why there is little likelihood that Zika will establish in Louisiana from mosquito bites.
Louisiana residents primarily live indoors, and there are no areas where there is a heavy concentration of mosquitoes mixed with a large population of people living in close quarters.
“It (Zika) doesn’t last very long in the blood, and that’s probably helping us out, too,” Ratard said.
In addition, Louisiana has aggressive local mosquito control programs, and the main type of mosquito that makes the best conveyer of the disease isn’t that common in the state, Ratard said.
For most people, the virus presents no problems, with 80 percent of infected people unaware they even have the disease.
For the other 20 percent, the symptoms are flu-like with fever and achy joints, but the virus doesn’t appear to have any long-term health effects.
He added that people can prevent infection by taking precautions.
“If you don’t get bitten by a mosquito, you don’t have a problem,” Ratard said.
Precautions include wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, using insect repellent, emptying water from outdoor containers that provide mosquito breeding grounds and making sure screens on doors and windows are repaired.
“You have to be very careful all the time, but it can be done,” Ratard said.
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