Two doctors recall first-hand experience with Zika virus

Infectious Disease

by Baylor Scott & White Health

Jan 25, 2016

The recent travel advisory issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning tourists of the heightened outbreak of the Zika virus.

Although the Zika virus has never been contracted in the United States, one of the first cases reported into Temple, Texas, was remarkably reported by a provider at Baylor Scott & White Health.

Whitney S. Prince, MD, specializing in pulmonary and critical care medicine, had just returned from her honeymoon in Bora Bora at the start of 2014. Dr. Prince had felt fine and returned back to work, when one of her nurses noticed a terrible rash while she was working in the intensive care unit. Dr. Prince knew immediately that it was probably not a coincidence with her recent travel to the South Pacific.

Zika virus is transmitted to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These are the same mosquitoes that spread dengue and chikungunya viruses. Before Dr. Prince left the country, she checked the CDC website and was aware of her heightened risk for these diseases.

“I recommend for anyone who is going to travel outside the United States to look first on the CDC website for any CDC travel health notices,” Dr. Prince said. “There was a recent spike in numbers before I went, especially with chikungunya.”

Dr. Prince soon developed the symptoms commonly reported after contracting the Zika virus. She had a rash on her face and chest, followed by fatigue, low grade fevers, joint pain and swelling. The illness lasted about seven to 10 days, and also included conjunctivitis or pink eye.

Karen Brust, MD, who specializes in infectious disease, was also working when she got the call from Dr. Prince.

“She just called me and said I think I might have Zika fever,” Dr. Brust said. “I told her I would come down and take a look, and it was pretty obvious. It was just a matter of confirming it, and so we started the process of documenting the case.”

Dr. Brust and Dr. Prince worked together to contact the CDC and sent a number of blood samples with the appropriate paperwork. Dr. Brust later published an article, documenting the case for the healthcare community.

“Dr. Prince’s experience was pretty textbook,” Dr. Brust said. “However, there was some question if she had dengue or Zika after initial testing, since there is some cross over of antibodies between those viruses.”

Within a couple of weeks, it was confirmed that Dr. Prince had contracted the Zika virus.

“It’s not life threatening,” Dr. Brust said. “There are no long term residual effects. It’s a flu-like illness with a rash that is self-limited and required no particular treatment.”

However, with the recent travel alerts, many are worried Zika fever will become part of every day life here in the US.

The CDC is specifically alerting pregnant women to avoid travel to 14 countries and territories in the Caribbean and Latin America affected by the Zika virus. It has been linked to reports in Brazil of microcephaly and other poor pregnancy outcomes in babies of mothers who were infected while pregnant.

“There are still a lot of unknowns about how the virus is causing microcephaly,” Dr. Brust said.

Experts were alerted to an increased number of babies with microcephaly in Brazil in the Fall of 2015. Many are still examining the specifics if the disease may affect a woman’s future pregnancies.

Mosquitoes become infected when they feed on a person already infected with the virus. Infected mosquitoes can then spread the virus to other people through bites, so preventative measures include repellant and avoiding mosquito-infested areas.

“It is important to be aware of public health issues,” Dr. Brust said. “If a person is aware of outbreaks where they may be traveling and has questions about certain symptoms when they return, they can alert their providers to what they could be suffering from and therefore play an important role in preventing the spread of the disease here.”

To stay current with the outbreak, the CDC is updating the geographic distribution of the disease. For more travel advisories and information, consult the CDC website.

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