CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Every day in the United States, nearly a quarter of a million people arrive at airports from destinations where local transmissions of Zika have been reported.
While most of the nation’s 3,358 cases of Zika reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are travel-related, 43 cases of local transmission in the continental U.S. have been reported, according to David Weber, MD, MPH, Medical Director of Hospital Epidemiology and Associate Chief Medical Officer at UNC Health Care.
Weber was one of three UNC School of Medicine Zika experts who were the featured speakers at last Thursday’s grand rounds, a weekly lecture hosted by the Department of Medicine. Matt Collins, MD, PhD, an infectious diseases fellow, and Helen Lazear, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology, joined Weber in updating UNC School of Medicine faculty on the latest developments in Zika research and diagnostic development at UNC, as well as travel advisories and referral procedures.
Most of the Zika cases reported in the United States are travel-associated transmissions. North Carolina has had 52 reported cases of Zika, all of which were travel-related rather than acquired locally. In North Carolina, for example, international airports in the Raleigh-Durham area, as well as Charlotte receive a substantial number of international travelers from the countries where Zika is now an epidemic, Weber said.
“You’re only a plane ride away from every existing infectious disease anywhere in the world,” he said. “Many existing infectious diseases are going to spread to the U.S., and we can have an outbreak or a true epidemic or we can see sporadic cases here at UNC.”
Pregnant women are the most vulnerable population when it comes to Zika because of maternal-fetal transmission of the virus and its associated birth defects, including microcephaly. UNC’s obstetrics and gynecology departments, as well as fetal medicine “have very well defined guidelines and algorithms for how they will treat pregnant women with Zika infection or suspected disease,” Weber said.
Weber directs the UNC Hospitals’ Zika Response Working Group, which is tasked with keeping clinic directors informed of Zika updates, developing a diagnostic testing algorithm, and providing UNC Health Care personnel and patients with pre- and post-travel counseling and evaluations.