Puerto Rico has reported its first case of Zika virus, an illness transferred via mosquitoes. It has recently been linked to a number of birth defects in Brazil. Puerto Rico’s Health Secretary Ana Rius said on Thursday that the unidentified patient had not traveled recently and lives in the island’s eastern region.
Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress, said in a statement his office had been in touch with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which had confirmed the single case of Zika on the island.
“There is no reason for alarm, and the public should continue to take common sense steps to avoid mosquito bites, like using repellent and wearing long pants and shirts,” Pierluisi said. Zika was first detected in Africa in the 1940s but was unknown in the Americas until last year.
The Zika virus is commonly transmitted by infected mosquitoes, which are often found in tropical regions. The same species of mosquito that transmits Zika can also spread dengue fever and chikungunya. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that there is no vaccine to prevent or medication to treat Zika.
Outbreaks of the disease have occurred previously in Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, the CDC says. It was not immediately clear how the patient in Puerto Rico contracted the virus, but officials are monitoring for additional cases. The WHO said the cause of the outbreak in Brazil had yet to be determined.
Between three and 12 days after being bitten by a mosquito carrying the virus, three out of four people come down with symptoms including mild fever, rash, conjunctivitis, headaches and joint pain.
The most common symptoms of the disease are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. Usually a mild disease, Zika lasts from days to a week, hospitalization is not commonly required and deaths are rare. Scientists in Brazil have linked Zika infections to cases of babies being born with small heads, or microcephaly.
More than 2,700 babies in Brazil were born with microcephaly in 2015, up from fewer than 150 in 2014. Brazil’s health officials say they’re convinced the jump is connected to a sudden outbreak of the Zika virus, though international experts caution it’s far too early to be sure and note the condition can have many other causes.
“We are looking at the beginning of an epidemic in a country that has in between 200,000 and 300,000 births per year, which shows how worried we are. It’s a virus we don’t know that much about,” said Rodrigo Stabeli, vice president of the Rio de Janeiro-based Fiocruz research institute. “We are preparing for the unknown.”
Brazilians are so concerned that some obstetricians, such as Helga Monaco at Sao Paulo’s Samaritano Hospital, recommend women avoid becoming pregnant during the rainy season when mosquitoes are most prevalent.
“All the women I see at the hospital or in my office who are pregnant or wanting to get pregnant are very alarmed, almost panicky,” she said.