Israel's First Confirmed Zika Virus Case Prompts Health Ministry Warning

Mosquito-borne infection is prevalent in South America and was recently linked to birth defects.

A female Aedes aegypti mosquito in the process of acquiring a blood meal from a human host. The Zika virus is spread through mosquito bites.
AP

A 2-year-old returning from Colombia was recently diagnosed as Israel’s first case of the Zika virus.

The child, who was diagnosed at the National Center for Zoonotic Viruses at Tel Hashomer, was released in good condition, according to the Health Ministry.

The mosquito-borne virus does not spread from person to person and the symptoms usually don’t last more than a week. However, research last year unearthed a suspected link between the virus and birth defects if pregnant women receive mosquito bites.

The Israeli toddler had recently returned with her family from Colombia with flu-like symptoms, which also characterize the virus. Because Colombia is one of the countries where the virus is common, Israeli medical staff decided to conduct a lab test.

There is no medicine for or vaccination against the virus, and the medical protocol is supportive care.

“We have no fear of the disease spreading in Israel,” Prof. Itamar Grotto, the head of public health services at the Health Ministry, told Haaretz. “Our fear mainly regards pregnant women who travel to countries in which the virus is transmitted, particularly in South American countries. We see it becoming widespread there, with thousands of cases in Brazil alone.”

The Health Ministry issued new guidelines to pregnant women on Thursday, recommending that they postpone travel to places where the disease has been contracted.

“There is additional evidence regarding the connection between the infection caused by the Zika virus among pregnant women and microcephaly of the fetus,” the ministry noted in its guidelines, which advised them to exercise special care.

The ministry recommended that women who do travel take strict measures to prevent mosquito bites during their trip. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued similar recommendations this week. That move came after the Zika virus was found in at least five pregnant women in the United States this month.

“Given the danger of contracting various diseases after mosquito bites, we again recommend to instruct travelers to South America, Central America, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands to use means to reduce the risk of mosquito bites such as anti-mosquito cream, wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, a hat, sleeping in rooms that have nets and have been sprayed or are air-conditioned, or under a mosquito net hung over a bed that has been sprayed with mosquito killer,” the Health Ministry added.