HOUSTON - Legacy Community Health, one of the nation’s largest community health centers, announced Thursday its first patient, a pregnant woman, tested positive for Zika virus.
The woman lived in El Salvador before coming to the U.S. earlier this year, but it’s not clear whether she contracted the virus directly through a mosquito bite in El Salvador or through sexual transmission. The Centers for Disease Control said definitively the virus can cause severe birth defects.
“We are closely monitoring the patient through her pregnancy and hope for the best for mom and baby,” Dr. Natalie Vanek, a Legacy Community Health infectious disease specialist said. “Today we are re-issuing our advisory to pregnant women not to travel down to the Central and South American countries where the virus is rampant, and want to make the broader Houston community aware the virus can be transmitted sexually. We are focused on prevention, not panic."
Last week, the CDC said sexual transmission “might contribute to more illness than was anticipated when the outbreak was first recognized.” The guidance comes after a same-sex couple in Dallas County became infected with Zika in January. It was the first report of same-sex transmission by men. Previous sexual transmission focused on heterosexual couples.
About 700 cases of Zika virus have been reported in the United States, including almost 70 pregnant women, according to the CDC.
The political debate over Zika involves federal funding for prevention measures and fast-tracking a vaccine. Congress has met the Obama Administration’s emergency funding request for $1.9 billion for Zika with inaction.
“Washington needs to quickly find common ground on this growing public health situation,” said Legacy CEO Katy Caldwell. "The virus will likely get worse along the Gulf Coast in weeks, not months, given this week's major flooding that will increase the area's mosquito population. We are hopeful the health and well-being of the American people is the top priority of lawmakers, even in an election year.”
Zika symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain, or red eyes. The best prevention methods are avoiding mosquito bites by using insect repellant, wearing additional clothing, staying in air-conditioned spaces, and using condoms during sexual activity.