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First US Zika-Related Death Reported in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico, one of the countries currently experiencing active Zika virus transmission, has reported its first Zika-related death.

Puerto Rico, one of the countries currently experiencing active Zika virus transmission, has reported its first Zika-related death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, released on April 29, 2016, states that one Puerto Rico local died of complications related to the Zika virus. The 70-year old male is said to have developed thrombocytopenia, a condition in which blood platelet levels are reported to be under 100,000 cells/mm3, as a complication from the Zika infection. Thrombocytopenia causes bruising, slow blood clotting after injury, and bleeding into the tissues. The CDC reports that this condition has been reported in 9 Zika-infected patients in Puerto Rico.

Although Zika-related deaths are rare, this is not the first person to succumb to Zika-related complications. An article published in The Lancet in April 2016 stated that four patients died between October 2, 2015 and October 22, 2015 at Tolima’s Hospital, in Colombia. The patients included:

  • A 2-year old girl: died 5 days after onset of symptoms and 1 day after hospital admission
  • A 30-year old woman: died 12 days after onset of symptoms and 10 days after hospital admission
  • A 61-year old man: died 7 days after onset of symptoms and 24 hours after hospital admission
  • A 72-year old woman: died 48 hours after onset of symptoms and less than 24 hours after hospital admission

The CDC’s report comes out two days after US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Sylvia Burwell, visited Puerto Rico, where she announced on behalf of HHS that in an effort to “further strengthen our Zika response efforts, … 20 health centers throughout Puerto Rico will receive about $250,000 each.”

Recently, the FDA issued Emergency Use Authorization for a commercial Zika test that would be available for use on May 2, 2016 in the continental United States and Puerto Rico. Previously, only CDC qualified centers could test for Zika. This commercial test will help physicians identify Zika virus within blood samples, which may help healthcare providers treat symptoms before progression.

Zika has been confirmed to cause microcephaly in fetuses of Zika-positive pregnant women. The virus can be transmitted through the bite of an Aedes aegypti mosquito, several modes of sexual contact, and maybe even blood transfusion. According to the World Health Organization Zika Situation Report, 55 countries and territories have reported active Zika transmission since April 27, 2016. Forty-two of these countries are experiencing their first cases of active virus transmission.

Although locally-acquired cases of the Zika virus have yet to be reported on mainland United States, researchers suggest that US Southern States should be prepared for a probable outbreak.