UO Health Center prepares for Zika virus

The Zika virus in Oregon (Emily Garcia/Emerald)

America’s newest emerging disease — the Zika virus — continues to spread, with 23 cases in Oregon, as reported by the Center for Disease Control.

At the University of Oregon Health Center, doctors and medical staff are setting up protocol and pushing to inform students about the disease.

Dr. Elisabeth Maxwell, UO health promotion specialist, wrote in an email to the Emerald that the health center is distributing flyers to organizations on campus that work with international students. Triage nurses at the health center have also received training to identify specific symptoms of the Zika virus and are prepared to route students to additional resources for treatment.

Maxwell said the health center is also prepared to draw blood samples for Zika virus testing and screening if they suspect a case. The samples would be shipped to a state institution for laboratory testing and would not actually be tested at the UO.

“I feel like we’re as prepared as we could be,” Maxwell said, “There really isn’t anything to be alarmed about on this campus.”

Of the 23 cases in Oregon, none have contracted the virus in the state – only during travel, according to the CDC. In other words, there are no locally acquired cases in Oregon. Florida, where there are species of mosquito that carry Zika, has 519 reported cases. Florida is also the only state that has reported any locally acquired cases, with 43.

Zika can be transmitted through blood and sexual contact, according to Dr. Richard Brunader, medical director at the UO Health Center, but transmission of the virus through a mosquito bite in Oregon is unlikely, due to the species of mosquito that carry it.

Brunader said the symptoms for Zika are similar to other illnesses, such as the flu and colds, but with additional symptoms like conjunctivitis (red eyes) and rashes.

The World Health Organization defines an emerging disease as “one that has appeared in a population for the first time, or that may have existed previously but is rapidly increasing in incidence or geographic range.”

Like other emerging diseases, the Zika virus is evolving. There is still much research to be conducted, according to Brunauder.

“For a normal, healthy adult, Zika doesn’t really present a threat,” Maxwell said. “Someone might not even know they have it.”

She said the Zika virus poses the biggest threat to pregnant women, whose babies could be born with microcephaly –an abnormally small head – according to the CDC.

No treatment or vaccine exists for the Zika virus.

The UO Health Center has not tested for the Zika virus yet, according to Maxwell. If UO discovered a case of Zika, the local county health department would run a case investigation. Maxwell said they would try to identify how, when and where the person was infected.