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Zika-Related Death Confirmed In Salt Lake County

Whittney Evans
Gary Edwards, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department addresses the media.

Zika virus contributed to the death of a Salt Lake County resident last month. County health officials say it’s the first confirmed Zika-related death in the continental U.S.

The Salt Lake County Health Department found out about the case earlier this week when health officials were reviewing death certificates. The department has not released the name of the deceased or the person’s travel history but Executive Director Gary Edwards says he or she had traveled in the past year to an area of the world where mosquitos are known to spread Zika.

“While this individual did test positive for the Zika virus, the exact cause of death has not been determined and it may not be possible to determine how the Zika infection contributed to the death,” Edwards says.

Edwards says the deceased was elderly and had an underlying medical condition.   

Dr. Andrew Pavia, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Utah says most diseases affect some groups of people worse than others.

“The elderly, the very young, people with immune compromising conditions, like those on cancer chemotherapy,” Pavia says. “And that’s because the body doesn’t control the infection well and the infection replicates more and is more severe.”

Both Pavia and Edwards say there is no risk of mosquito-borne exposure to Zika in Utah. Those who are at risk include anyone traveling to regions of the world where mosquitos are spreading Zika. Also at risk are pregnant women or women hoping to become pregnant who are having unprotected sex with someone who has traveled to those places recently.  

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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