The study reveals how doctors figured out that a 23-year-old pregnant woman was the first person in the continental U.S. to be infected with locally acquired Zika virus.
The unnamed patient appeared at a Miami hospital in July with a rash, sore throat and fever, according to the report. These symptoms are all signs of Zika infection. However, there had been no reported local spread of the virus at the time, and people in the U.S. with Zika infection were those who had traveled abroad or who had sexual contact with Zika-infected people.Dr. Lucy Chen, a dermatologist at Jackson Health System in Miami, treated the patient and said Zika was on everyone’s mind, despite the fact that the patient hadn’t traveled abroad to areas with high levels of Zika transmission — namely, Central and South America.
“When the patient came in, she was obviously very concerned about her pregnancy,” Chen told ABC News. “She had been following the news, and she had a fever and rash.”
During an examination, doctors were particularly interested in the extensive rash that affected the woman’s stomach, chest, arms and legs.
“When we saw her, her rash was nonspecific. It just looked like pink bumps from head to toe,” Chen said.
The doctors tested the woman for Zika and a host of other viruses, such as mumps and measles. When doctors got her lab results, they found that she had Zika — the first person to have locally acquired virus in the continental U.S.
The virus has been linked to a host of birth defects, most notably microcephaly, which is characterized by an abnormally small head and brain and can lead to developmental delays.
While the patient tested positive for the virus, the doctors treating her found that the fetus did not show signs of microcephaly. She went on to give birth naturally late last year to an infant who showed no signs of birth defects and tested negative for the virus. The mother and infant are being followed to determine if there are any lasting effects of her Zika infection.
Chen said she and her co-authors wrote the report to show people in the medical community an example of a Zika rash.
“Dermatologists and clinicians had an idea of what the Zika rash looked like, but it wasn’t until the patient presented here that we were able to get an up-close and personal look and photograph the skin,” Chen said in a statement today. “Any doctor now has a visual sense of the rash to properly diagnose and refer patients to the appropriate specialists.”
Florida ended up having three areas with Zika transmission during last year’s outbreak. Since the outbreak was first reported, there have been 256 people infected with locally transmitted Zika in Florida, according to the state health department.
Last month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared the state free of locally transmitted Zika for the first time since July.
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