After dire warnings about the spread of the Zika virus, the U.S. has confirmed the first three cases of the virus stateside.
On Jan. 26, state health officials in Virginia confirmed a woman had contracted the mosquito-borne virus after traveling outside the U.S., Reuters reported. Health officials didn't say where the woman traveled or provide other details aside from saying the CDC confirmed the diagnosis.
Separately, the Arkansas Department of Health and health officials in Los Angeles said they had also documented cases of the Zika virus. In the latter case, an adolescent girl was infected after traveling to El Salvador in 2015, ABC News reported.
So far, officials say the three infected Americans have not transmitted the virus to others as the infections occurred during the winter months.
Now, the CDC is warning travelers to check health alerts before making travel plans, and airlines have begun refunding tickets to passengers who have booked flights to central and south America, according to CNN. United Airlines is offering refunds to any travelers who have booked flights to the impacted regions, while American Airlines said it will offer pregnant passengers full refunds if they receive a doctor's note.
(CDC map showing Zika virus distribution as of Jan. 15. Three cases have now been confirmed in the U.S. Photo Credit: CDC via Wikimedia Commons)
Although the Zika virus manifests with mild symptoms in healthy adults, it can have profound and devastating effects on unborn children, the CDC said. Only about one in five people infected with the virus become ill, and those who do typically exhibit mild symptoms like fever, rashes, joint pain and conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye. The symptoms can last for a few days up to a week, and there is no vaccine to prevent infection.
Pregnant women are particularly at risk because the Zika virus can cause microcephaly in unborn babies. Microcephaly stops development of the brain, resulting in a smaller head size, developmental problems, intellectual disabilities, and a host of other problems.
The CDC has issued a travel notice telling pregnant women to exercise caution.
"Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing," a CDC statement reads. "Pregnant women who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip."
In Brazil, where health officials say as many as 1.5 million people have been infected, the number of microcephaly cases has spiked from about 150 cases annually, to thousands of diagnoses in 2015, CNN reported.
The virus will likely spread across the north and south American continents, according to the World Health Organization, with only Canada and Chile likely being spared.