The Mississippi State Department of Health reported and confirmed two cases of Zika virus in the state of Mississippi last week.
The virus, a short illness characterized by fever, rash, joint aches and red eyes, is spread through mosquitos.
The Mississippi victims were located in Madison and Noxubee County and both had recently travelled to Haiti.
Although the Zika virus has officially spread to Mississippi, Thomas Dobbs, state epidemiologist at the Mississippi State Department of Health, said there is no cause for great alarm.
Dobbs said travelers to countries with active Zika transmission should take every precaution to avoid mosquito bites, and pregnant women should avoid travel to those countries.
“There is currently no treatment or vaccine for Zika,” Dobbs said. “The illness is usually relatively mild and resolves on its own in a few days. Zika infections have been implicated as a cause of microcephaly and severe congenital deformities when pregnant women have been infected. That is why it is so important for pregnant women to avoid infection.”
Microcephaly is a condition in which a newborn baby’s head is significantly smaller than expected as a result of abnormal brain development.
In a small number of cases, the Zika virus may also be associated with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, a usually temporary auto-immune paralytic illness in which the immune system attacks the nerves.
Due to the spread and detrimental health effects of the virus in Latin America, Dobbs stressed the importance of lowering the risk of Zika contraction and transmission here.
Though the illness is short, men may remain contagious through sex much longer.
Men who have traveled to an area with active Zika virus transmission but did not develop symptoms should wait at least eight weeks after last exposure before attempting conception and should use condoms or abstain from sex during that time.
Men diagnosed should wait at least six months after the onset of symptoms to attempt conception, according to Dobbs.
Although the specific mosquito known to currently spread Zika in Latin America and the Caribbean has not been seen in Mississippi since 1986 and there is a low risk that other mosquitoes could spread Zika, Dobbs said Mississippians should still take necessary precautions against mosquitoes.
“People should avoid mosquitoes anyway due to risk of West Nile Virus and other, more rare mosquito-spread infections,” Dobbs said.