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A Utah child's positive test for Zika virus is not cause for alarm, health experts say, but it does present an opportunity to remind pregnant women of the threat posed by travel to affected countries.
The Utah Department of Health announced Tuesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the virus in a Utah child between the ages of 2 and 10. The child had recently traveled to a country where the virus is transmitted by a type of mosquito that isn't found in Utah.
The child developed a rash but hasn't had any complications from the virus, symptoms of which are usually mild and short-lived. About 80 percent of those infected by the virus never show symptoms.
Dallin Peterson, state epidemiologist for the Zika virus, said there is no risk of transmission by the child.
"We're mostly just making people aware that there's not a high risk [for Utahns], but we're focusing on pregnant women who travel overseas," Peterson said.
The virus is thought to be linked to the large number of babies born with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads, in Brazil.
Peterson urged pregnant women to avoid traveling to affected areas, and for men who have recently traveled to affected areas to use protection during intercourse, or to abstain from intercourse, with pregnant women. Zika virus can be sexually transmitted by men and is present in semen longer than in blood.
Pregnant women with questions about Zika virus can call a dedicated hotline at 1-800-822-2229, text 855-999-3525 or visit http://www.MotherToBaby.org.
Peterson said that since December, the state has sent "many" possible cases to the CDC upward of a dozen in some weeks but this is the first positive result. The CDC tests take two to three weeks.
The World Health Organization has determined that the epidemic is a global emergency, given a spate of birth defects and reports of a neurological illness in affected countries.
As of Feb. 24, the CDC reported 107 travel-associated Zika virus cases in the U.S.
The WHO has said that the Zika virus is likely to spread everywhere in the Americas except for Canada and Chile. But a Utahn's future risk is "very low," Peterson said, given that the Aedes species mosquito is not currently found in the state.
Physician Gregory Schwitzer, assistant executive director in the missionary department for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a release last month that the church had "reemphasized" its instructions on avoiding mosquito-borne viruses.
The Associated Press reported that research published Monday in the journal Lancet might help prove that the Zika virus is also linked with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological illness that can cause temporary paralysis, muscle weakness, breathing problems and, in about 5 percent of cases, death.
Utah Rep. Chris Stewart introduced a bill last month that would combat Zika virus with money allocated to fight the Ebola virus. Stewart said in a statement that $1.4 billion of the $2.4 billion earmarked for Ebola was unused as of September 2015.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama called on Congress to provide $1.8 billion in emergency funding, but Stewart said by phone Tuesday "that will take months to appropriate, if it ever is."
Using the funds earmarked for Ebola virus is "just such a simple answer," Stewart said. "We've got bipartisan support for this."
Stewart said he believes his bill will move forward within the next 10 days.
In December, with help from the National Institutes of Health, Utah State University's Institute for Antiviral Research began working with the virus in search of treatments or a vaccine.
"I'm not holding my breath for treatment or vaccine in the next year or two," research associate professor Justin Julander said Tuesday. "It'll probably take a little bit longer than that."
Julander will join a panel of experts meeting in Washington next month.
Asked if he's been especially busy since being assigned to the Zika virus, Julander said, "I'm running around like a chicken with its head cut off."