Zika virus reported in Chicago

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Though 18 states have verified cases of Zika virus, the outbreak in the U.S. has been minimal. All of the cases the Center for Disease Control have verified had returned recently from a tropical vaction. The most recent Illinois case, a woman in Chicago, is the third for the state. (Michelle Krichevskaya / The DePaulia)

Though 18 states have verified cases of Zika virus, the outbreak in the U.S. has been minimal. All of the cases the Center for Disease Control have verified had returned recently from a tropical vaction. The most recent Illinois case, a woman in Chicago, is the third for the state. (Michelle Krichevskaya / The DePaulia)

A Chicago woman tested positive for the Zika virus after returning home to the U.S. from Colombia in January. The virus has mostly been found in Central and South America since its most recent outbreak, though it has spread to other countries and states.

The virus is transmitted by contagious mosquitoes residing in hot and humid regions and, once infected, can also be contracted via intercourse. The woman, a North Side native, reportedly felt ill once returning home and sought medical attention. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, “this is the first large-scale outbreak we’ve seen in the world.” Since then the Chicagoan has made a full recovery and no one who has been in contact with her has been affected.

The first case of Zika in the U.S. was reported in Texas in February. The most recent outbreak of the disease started in Brazil in April 2015. Since then, other reports of people contracting the virus, many of them just returning from tropical locations, have been reported but the likelihood of a virus like Zika affecting students is a much slimmer possibility than coming in contact with norovirus, which has affected many students at DePaul, or influenza.

Sarah Connolly, assistant professor of microbiology, said that one of the reasons people may just now be hearing about the disease and its effects could be connected to the fact that “the U.S. public has not heard about the Zika virus before now because this is the first time that the virus has spread through the Western hemisphere.”

“The media tends to create a panic about infectious diseases, and in this case the Zika virus. If people are especially worried about this virus, they should avoid traveling to places like South America,” Megan Schrementi, laboratory coordinator in the biological sciences department, said. “All viruses have different life cycles and some, like influenza, mutate more, but just because influenza mutates rapidly doesn’t mean that all viruses do.”

People make their way through fumigation fog, sprayed to kill Aedes Aegypti mosquitos, in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Tuesday, March 1, 2016. Authorities are fumigating in an attempt to prevent the spread of Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

People make their way through fumigation fog, sprayed to kill Aedes Aegypti mosquitos, in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Tuesday, March 1, 2016. Authorities are fumigating in an attempt to prevent the spread of Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Jalen Hamilton, a senior at DePaul, is not afraid of the virus reaching Chicago.

“Even though the virus has affected someone from the Chicago area, I do not feel that it will spread because no one has contracted the virus since being in contact with the woman,” Hamilton said. Since January, there have been five confirmed cases of Zika in Illinois, two of them involving pregnant women who tested positive for the virus in January. They all contracted the virus while traveling.  Most Zika cases lack symptoms, but some warning signs are commonly slight and can seem like a fever, the symptoms generally last for a week. The Zika virus is known to be carried from a pregnant woman to her unborn child during pregnancy. Mothers who are infected with Zika during their pregnancy typically give birth to a child with a birth defect that is called microcephaly, a disorder where a baby’s head is smaller than normal.

Rachel Dick, a DePaul junior, isn’t worried about the disease since she has no plans to travel or have children anytime soon.  Dick said “if it doesn’t get contained and begins to affect a large scale of the population, then I’ll be worried.”

Unfortunately, there are no vaccines to prevent the spread of the virus, but there are many prevention tactics that can be used when traveling. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mosquitos that spread Zika usually bite people  the most during the daytime. In the course of the first week of being infected with Zika, the virus is located in the blood and can be transferred from an infected human to another mosquito and the spread continues.

As DePaul heads towards spring break and the weather gets nicer, some precautions might be helpful even though the likelihood of contracting the disease is minimal.

“A majority of people have the ability to fight off viruses if they’re caught early on. A vaccine is the best case scenario in helping people fight this because it lets the immune system do what it’s meant to do,” Schrementi said. “Education is important too. People need to know how it spreads because when you know how it spreads you can minimize exposure and the number of people who get it.”