Two US residents, both of whom recently traveled abroad, have tested positive for the tropical Zika virus. The virus is causing alarm in a number of Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Officials in Virginia and Arkansas confirmed the test results on Tuesday. In both cases officials declined to identify exactly where they may have contracted the disease.
However, Virginia Health Commissioner Dr Marissa Levine said the Virginia resident traveled to a country where the Zika virus transmission is ongoing. She added the person posed no risk to others, as it is not mosquito season in Virginia.
"Zika virus is acquired through the bite of an infected mosquito," Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine said in a statement.
Zika is generally considered a milder form of other mosquito borne illnesses such as dengue fever. But Brazil has seen a spike in Zika cases at the same time as it has seen dramatic rise in new born babies suffering a rare birth defect.
Not scientifically proven
It has yet to be scientifically proven but the suspicion is that pregnant women infected with the Zika virus are giving birth to babies afflicted with microcephaly - that is, babies with unusually small heads who may suffer brain damage as a result. The virus has surged in Brazil, where officials have simultaneously seen an increase in birth defects.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put out a list of Latin American and Caribbean countries with confirmed cases of Zika, and recommends that pregnant women consider postponing travel there.
The 22 countries affected are, in Latin America: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela. In the Caribbean: Barbados, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, St. Martin and Puerto Rico. Also, Cape Verde, off the coast of western Africa, and Samoa in the South Pacific.
Two US airlines - United and American - are offering refunds to some or all passengers with reservations to any of the countries on the CDC list.
President Barack Obama met with his senior health advisers on Tuesday, and urged them to accelerate research into diagnostic tests, vaccines and therapeutic drugs, and work to inform Americans about the Zika virus and ways to protect against infection.
But it will likely take years to come up with an effective vaccine. "This is not going to be overnight," said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.
The World Health Organization predicts the virus will spread to all countries across the Americas except for Canada and Chile.
bik/jr (AP, Reuters)