The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which carries the Zika virus.
Felipe Dana/Associated Press
By Adam Smeltz / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At least 53 people in Pennsylvania were waiting Tuesday to hear whether they had contracted the Zika virus, up from 14 early last week, the state Department of Health said.
Health officials said more stringent screening recommendations and growing awareness probably helped fuel the surge in blood tests. At least 16 county residents were in line to be tested or awaiting results early this week, according to the county health department.
“The bottom line is, there are no experts in this disease in the world right now. People are trying to learn about it,” said Ronald Thomas, the division director in maternal-fetal medicine at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield.
Generally, those tested for Zika in the United States have returned from visits abroad to epidemic-affected regions. Two patients in Pennsylvania have tested positive for the mosquito-borne virus since the state health department began releasing Zika updates last month. Results for eight others in the state have come back negative.
Most people who contract the virus show no symptoms, which can include a fever, rash and joint pain that may last about a week. It can take up to two weeks from the time of a blood drawing for the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to process a Zika test.
As of Feb. 16, when the state issued its last Zika report, everyone tested for the virus in Pennsylvania had potential exposure from travel in other countries. It wasn’t immediately clear if that was still the case on Tuesday, although no Zika-infected mosquitoes have been reported in the continental United States. Doctors in the U.S. diagnosed 52 travel-related human cases over the past year, according to the CDC.
The CDC has noted rare reports of transmission through blood transfusions and sexual intercourse, but mosquito bites remain the primary avenue for Zika’s spread in people. More than two dozen countries and regions across Central America, South America and the Caribbean are battling the outbreak of the virus that began early in 2015.
Medical researchers are most concerned about the potential effects for infected pregnant women, who have seen elevated rates of birth defects. Dr. Thomas said a Feb. 5 change in CDC guidelines may have prompted more testing of expectant mothers in particular. The amended recommendation suggests a blood test for any pregnant woman who has recently visited an outbreak-affected part of the world.
Earlier, the CDC had recommended the test only if the woman also was showing symptoms. Additionally, the CDC now advises that men who have visited an outbreak-affected area should use condoms or abstain from sex if their partners are pregnant.
In Pennsylvania, both confirmed Zika cases involved women who traveled abroad and have since recovered, according to the state health department. Neither was in Allegheny County.
Adam Smeltz: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2625 or on Twitter @asmeltz.
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