At least eleven servicemembers have been infected with the Zika virus this year, with the majority having traveled to countries where the mosquito-borne illness has taken hold.
According to the Army Times, a Pentagon health report states that eleven soldiers, four dependents and two military retirees are reported to have contracted the illness.
Among the seventeen individuals infected are four women, though none of them were pregnant, according to Dr. Jose Sanchez of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch. Fetuses infected with the Zika virus during the first three months of pregnancy have about a 1 to 13% chance of microcephaly, characterized by an abnormally tiny head and incomplete brain, according to the CDC.
“It is a fair assumption that the military is at higher risk for mosquito-borne infections,” said Amesh Adalja of the Center for Health Security at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “The military is stationed all over the world and often have prolonged outdoor exposure, enhancing the likelihood they will be bitten.”
All but two of the infected individuals had travelled to South America, Puerto Rico or the Caribbean. One of the individuals travelled to Brazil, which is currently dealing with a Zika epidemic.
Adalja says that military personnel need to be made aware of the serious implications of the virus, particularly among military members and spouses of childbearing age.
Over 600 people have been infected with Zika in the continental US, including nearly 200 pregnant women, with every case being related to travel. Meanwhile, over 1,100 cases of Zika -involving 146 pregnant women- have been documented in the US Territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the US Virgin islands, where the disease is spreading more rapidly.
Zika is spread by the Aedes aegypti species of mosquito, most commonly found in much of the American South, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean. The Aedes albopictus mosquito has also been named as a possible culprit, whose range stretches as far north as New England, according to the CDC.
Because Zika can be sexually transmitted by multiple means, the CDC has established several guidelines to help combat the spread of the virus:
If I man has symptoms of Zika, he should consider abstinence or use a condom for six months.Men who travel to Zika-affected areas but show no symptoms should utilize the same practices for up to eight weeks.
Women who have travelled to Zika hotspots should delay trying to get pregnant until eight weeks after the symptoms start; those not experiencing symptoms should refrain for the same time period after exposure.
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