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19 confirmed cases of Zika in Pa.

Katherine Ranzenberger
505-5439/@YDKatherine

More than 150 pregnant women in the United States and more than 120 in the U.S. territories have confirmed cases of Zika, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Gleyse Kelly da Silva holds her daughter Maria Giovanna as she sleeps in their house in Recife, Pernambuco state, Brazil, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. Brazilian officials still say they believe there's a sharp increase in cases of microcephaly and strongly suspect the Zika virus, which first appeared in the country last year, is to blame. The concern is strong enough that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month warned pregnant women to reconsider visits to areas where Zika is present. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

The CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health officials have been working to educate those everyone about the dangers of the African virus. However, pregnant women and women of childbearing age are at a higher risk because of the birth defects the virus can cause.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced his administration is working to increase surveillance for Zika in mosquitoes around the state as scientists work to understand the effects it could have on the U.S. population.

“This Zika Virus Response Plan will better help us protect the health of the more than 12 million people who call Pennsylvania home,” said Secretary of Health Karen Murphy in a news release.

Around the state: There are 19 CDC confirmed cases in Pennsylvania, with 136 still awaiting testing. The specific number of pregnant women in the commonwealth with Zika is not known, according to the CDC and the Department of Health.

Nearly 550 people in the U.S. have confirmed cases of Zika, according to the CDC, all of which were acquired while traveling to areas where the infection is actively being transmitted. Ten of those cases were sexually transmitted, and one case has resulted in the autoimmune disease Guillain-Barré syndrome, which causes paralysis

“Zika generally causes very mild symptoms and rarely leads to serious side effects in those who become ill with the virus," Murphy said. "However, pregnant women and those of childbearing age are at greatest risk as Zika is known to potentially cause serious and even fatal birth defects in some babies born to women infected with the virus during pregnancy."

The virus that originated in the Zika Forest in Uganda.

Health care providers are working to educate people on the infection that can cause birth defects such as microcephaly — abnormally small heads with incomplete brain development — and Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Recently, Zika was found in Asian tiger (Aedes albopictus) mosquitoes, a species with a farther reach north than is typical for the Aedes aegypti mosquito the virus is found in. These concerns have prompted Wolf's administration to step up education work and monitor the situation without CDC laboratories.

This 2006 photo provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a female Aedes aegypti mosquito in the process of acquiring a blood meal from a human host. Scientists believe the species originated in Africa but came to the Americas on slave ships. It has continued to spread through shipping and airplanes. Now it's found through much of the world. (James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention via AP)

Protecting yourself: The Department of Health has a list of recommendations for how to protect yourself from possible mosquito bites. These tips include using an EPA-registered insect repellent with DEET, using screens on windows that might be open and routinely emptying containers that may hold standing water.

Zika can also be transmitted sexually, so the DOH recommends avoiding sexual contact with a partner who traveled to a Zika-affected area or using a condom correctly each time you have sex.

Doctors and epidemiologists are still working on answering questions people have about Zika and its link to birth defects and other issues.

To stay up to date on Zika and its spread, visit the CDC website.

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at kranzenberger@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDKatherine.