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Zika arrives in South Dakota, expert says locals aren't at risk

The Zika virus has arrived in South Dakota, but one state official said residents are not in danger. According to the South Dakota Department of Health, a woman who recently returned from the Caribbean has tested positive for Zika virus and has d...

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Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen inside Oxitec laboratory in Campinas, Brazil, February 2, 2016. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo

The Zika virus has arrived in South Dakota, but one state official said residents are not in danger.

According to the South Dakota Department of Health, a woman who recently returned from the Caribbean has tested positive for Zika virus and has developed symptoms. But state Epidemiologist Dr. Lon Kightlinger said South Dakotans have little to fear about the virus if they remain in their home state.

"Here in South Dakota, the risk is for travelers, or if you've traveled and you've come back, there's a low risk of sexual transmission," Kightlinger said.

Kightlinger said the risk for South Dakotans is minimal, as the virus is not carried by mosquitos found in South Dakota. But Kightlinger said those traveling to Mexico, Central America, South America or Florida's Miami-Dade County should use caution.

According to Kightlinger, the major worry for those infected by Zika is birth defects, particularly microcephaly. But microcephaly, which can cause babies to be born with smaller heads and brains than otherwise expected, is not an issue in this case.

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"But this particular woman was not pregnant, so that's not a worry here," Kightlinger said.

Those infected by Zika virus can experience fever, muscle or eye pain and a rash approximately two to seven days after a mosquito bite. But only 20 percent of healthy adults who get Zika virus develop symptoms.

Approximately one month ago, Kightlinger said, a person who returned to South Dakota following a visit to Central America had developed an asymptomatic form of the virus.

"The first person was not sick, but they were infected, so there's a difference there," Kightlinger said.

But Kightlinger said someone who is not sick can still pass the virus onto an unborn child.

The reason the Department of Health has not released the names and hometowns of the Zika patients, according to Kightlinger, is the infected are not a risk to others.

"For West Nile, we say what county because that is at risk and we want people to know," Kightlinger said. "And you have had West Nile in Mitchell and in Davison County already this year. So we say that because there is a risk to the public, but here's there's not, so we keep it as general as possible."

And Kightlinger said West Nile virus is "far worse" than Zika virus.

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According to the Department of Health's most recent West Nile report, there have been 53 cases of West Nile virus disease reported in the state this year, with 26 percent of those infected being hospitalized and 85 percent suffering from fevers. There have been no deaths, but humans have contracted the disease in several area counties, including Bon Homme, Brule, Davison, Hanson, Hutchinson, Jerauld and McCook.

Kightlinger said 53 cases is a fairly high number, but he's uncertain why there has been an increase. He said academics at South Dakota State University are researching the cause for the increase.

"That's a lot," Kightlinger said. "In all of last year we only had 40 cases, so we're already way above last year and we're just in the height of the season now, so undoubtedly we'll go a lot higher than that."

Kightlinger said West Nile can cause fever and rashes, and 1 percent of people with the disease develop encephalitis, or the inflammation of the brain. West Nile virus can also lead to death.

Kightlinger recommended people protect themselves from both Zika and West Nile by wearing mosquito repellant, pants and long-sleeve shirts.

"If you go to Miami, Florida, do exactly what you would do in Miami as you would in Mitchell tonight," Kightlinger said.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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