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LAKEVIEW — News of the ZIka virus is spreading worldwide, and now the virus may have reached Chicago.
Presence St. Joseph Hospital is investigating one potential case of Zika virus infection. The patient has a “50/50 chance” of being infected, said Dr. Mitchell Weinstein, the section chief of infectious disease at the hospital.
There are only a handful of confirmed cases in the United States, with three in Illinois as of Jan. 28, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The Chicago Department of Public Health declined to say whether the city had a confirmed case of the Zika virus.
The city’s public health department is, however, “playing a very active role in circulating information related to Zika,” said department spokesman Matt Smith.
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What is the Zika virus? Here are some facts:
• For most, catching the Zika virus is not a huge threat. Only one in five people with the virus have any symptoms, which Weinstein said are typically flu-like and can include a fever, muscle aches and a rash.
• The true concern — which has the World Health Organization calling the spread of Zika virus an “extraordinary event” and an international public health emergency — is the virus’ effect on pregnant women and their infants.
• Experts have found a strong association between the virus and a rise in cases of microcephaly. Babies born with the neurological disorder have smaller, underdeveloped brains and can have severe developmental problems for the rest of their lives, Weinstein said.
• As such, women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant are advised to avoid traveling to areas with outbreaks, including Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America.
The virus is spread through a specific breed of mosquito not found in Chicago, Weinstein said. There is, however, a new report of the virus being sexually transmitted in Texas.
As a mosquito-borne virus that primarily threatens infants, the Zika virus is “totally different” from the Ebola outbreak last year, Weinstein said. Ebola’s high mortality rate and person-to-person transmission rendered it the more severe virus, although it was “unlikely to be widespread” in a first-world country like the United States.
While the ZIka virus has a “negligible” mortality rate, it is harder to control.
“Controlling mosquito populations is a somewhat difficult thing. Whether we have the resources is questionable,” Weinstein said. “I won’t be surprised if we see a lot of activity come into this country.”
Weinstein has had an eye on Zika since mid-2015, when the outbreak began in Brazil. The patient he’s currently testing for the virus traveled to an area with Zika activity and is awaiting results of a blood test, Weinstein said.
For the doctor who specializes in infectious diseases, learning about the virus and its global impact is “one of the most fascinating parts of my job.”
“We’re one of the few medical specialties in which things are continuously changing, or changing at the fastest rate,” he said. “People have questions, concerns, and it’s part of my job to educate.”
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