An elderly person died in Utah presumably as a result of the Zika virus, as confirmed by Health Officials from the Salt Lake County last Friday. The person had been in a region affected by the virus but was tested positive post-mortem.

Dagmar Vitek, the medical officer, said that it is known that the Zika virus contributed to the death. However, the specific cause of death has not been determined yet, or if the virus was the only cause linked to the death.

Zika virus
The first Zika-related death in continental U.S. has been confirmed by Health Officials from the Salt Lake County. Credit: Slate

The first death case in continental U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded in April a death from Zika in Puerto Rico when an also elderly patient died because of an internal bleeding caused due to the immune response to his infection, called thrombocytopenia.

The CDC requires all health care centers and providers across the country to report any Zika virus affections in order to be studied statistically by the Centers.

So far, a total of 1,133 cases had been registered in the United States, although none of them is due to transmission through the direct bite of the mosquito in American soil. Instead, they are all linked with people traveling to areas where the Zika virus has affected an important part of the population.

But when all U.S. territories are considered, the index rises to 2,526 cases. Florida has the higher index, with 206 registered, followed by California, with 69.  Montana is the State with the lowest index, with just one case registered.

Utah had 3 cases, but now it is linked with the first death.

What is Zika and why is it dangerous?

Zika is a virus primarily spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. The species is Aedes aegypti, the same that spreads yellow fever, chikungunya, and dengue fever, among other viruses and diseases.

The adult mosquito has white marks on the legs and thorax, and is original from Africa but is now found in tropical and subtropical areas, so that is why all Zika cases in the U.S. are linked with travels. The sole cases that may have been related to a direct bite of the mosquito are located in Puerto Rica, the American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands.

Infographic that shows how the virus spreads. Credit: Vox

The virus is dangerous, especially in elderly people, because of the severity of the symptoms. In some cases, it includes fever, joint pain, and rashes, that can make the immune system respond in an aggressive way that can end in some other affections. The virus is also dangerous for pregnant women since it can be transmitted to the baby. Zika is also linked with Guillain-Barré syndrome and microcephaly in newborns.

In the U.S., at least 6 Zika infected pregnancies have resulted in brain birth defects.

The CDC has proposed some guidelines and recommendations to health care providers to prepare facilities and staff to respond to patients infected with the Zika virus, as well as guidelines to read primary results of Zika tests.

The Centers also planned to send response teams when Zika arrives fully to the United States, something that is expected in the next seasons, since some states are considered at risk for local transmission: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Hawaii, Georgia and Texas, due to its climatic characteristics.

Source: CDC