LONDON – A baby born with brain damage at a hospital on Oahu in Hawaii was infected by the Zika virus, U.S. health officials confirmed on Saturday, apparently the first case of the mosquito-borne virus in a birth on U.S. soil.
The mother became ill with the Zika virus while living in Brazil in May 2015, and the baby was likely infected in the womb, Hawaiian state health officials and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The baby suffers from microcephaly, a rare condition in which the brain is abnormally small.
The Zika virus, which can impair normal intellectual development in newborns, has affected several thousand babies in Brazil in recent months.
“There’s no indication at this point that there’s any Zika virus circulating in Hawaii,” CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said. “But I think its important for us to understand that there are going to be imported cases of Zika to the United States, and we won’t be surprised if we start to see some local transmission of the virus,” Skinner said.
Zika can be transmitted by a mosquito that has bitten an infected person.
On Friday, U.S. health officials issued a travel warning for 14 countries and territories in the Caribbean and Latin America where infection with Zika is a risk. The CDC in particular cautioned pregnant women not to travel to those areas, as Zika has been linked to serious birth defects. (www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html)
The travel alert applies to Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela and Puerto Rico.
It also advises women who are trying to become pregnant to consult a doctor before traveling to those areas.
In the Hawaii case, a doctor recognized the possibility of a Zika infection in the newborn baby with microcephaly and alerted state officials, the Hawaii State Department of Health department said in a written statement.
The infection was confirmed by a CDC laboratory test and an advisory sent to doctors statewide.
The Hawaii State Department of Health emphasized that neither the mother nor baby were infectious and that there have been no recorded cases of Zika virus acquired in Hawaii, although six people have been identified there who were infected outside the United States.
Zika virus is transmitted by Aedes species mosquitoes, which also spread dengue and chikungunya viruses and are common in Texas, Florida and elsewhere in the United States.
The virus is usually a mild illness with fever, rash and joint pain. There is no preventive vaccine or treatment, according to the CDC.