Two babies have been born with Zika-related microcephaly to mothers in California who had spent time in countries that are infested with the mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus, state Department of Public Health officials said Thursday.
To protect privacy, the state did not release the locations of the mothers and babies affected by the virus. Infants born with birth defects as a result of maternal Zika infection do not pose a public health risk to others.
Mosquitoes that can carry the virus have been found in 12 California counties, including Fresno County, but there is no evidence these mosquitoes are transmitting Zika in the state at this time.
“This is a sobering reminder for Californians that Zika can cause serious harm to a developing fetus,” said Dr. Karen Smith, the state’s health officer. “We join the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in urging pregnant women to avoid travel to areas with known Zika transmission. Pregnant women who must travel to one of these areas should strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites and speak with a health care provider upon return.”
“Zika virus can also be transmitted to sexual partners by both males and females. Both men and women of childbearing age should take precautions if they have recently traveled, or plan to travel, to a location where Zika is spreading,” Smith said in a written statement.
Sexually active adults who travel to areas with Zika transmission should use condoms or other barriers in order to avoid getting or passing the virus during sex. Couples planning pregnancy should speak with a health care provider about a safe time to wait before trying to get pregnant.
As of July 29, CDPH has confirmed 114 travel-associated Zika virus infections in 22 counties. Fresno County has had one person infected. Merced County has reported two infections, and Tulare County has had one. Statewide, a total of 21 infections have been confirmed in pregnant women.
California health officials said a team of experts across several disciplines at the state health department is working with local public health departments, vector control agencies and the medical community to ensure that California is responding aggressively and appropriately to the emerging threat of Zika virus. The state is monitoring all pregnant women with Zika infection in California. The department is also collaborating with local health departments to provide assistance to families with infants born with Zika-related birth defects to ensure they receive appropriate medical care. Infants born to mothers with confirmed infections will be monitored for one year.
Often people infected have no symptoms, but those who do have symptoms report fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. The illness usually is mild, with symptoms lasting for several days to a week after a bite by an infected mosquito. There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika other than supportive care, rest, fluids and fever relief.
People traveling to areas with known Zika transmission should take steps to avoid mosquito bites: Use insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol for long-lasting protection. If using sunscreen and insect repellent, apply sunscreen first and then the repellent. Pregnant women and women who are breastfeeding should choose an EPA-registered insect repellent and use it according to the product label. Do not use insect repellent on infants less than 2 months old.
Other protections include wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and using air conditioning or window and door screens to keep mosquitoes outside. And if mosquitoes may come indoors, sleep under a bed net.
Mosquito numbers should be reduced by emptying standing water from containers, such as flowerpots and buckets.
Nationwide, 13 babies have been born with Zika-related birth defects, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has advised pregnant women not to travel to Zika-affected parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. Florida is the only U.S. state so far that has reported homegrown Zika transmission by mosquitoes.
For more information about Zika, visit the CDPH Zika website.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.