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Health Officials Mystified By Unusual New Zika Case In Utah

Andrea Smardon
Health officials speak to the press at the Salt Lake County Government Center. (July 18, 2016)

Local health officials confirmed Monday a new case of Zika in Utah, but they don’t know how the infection occurred.

This is the eighth Utah resident to be diagnosed with Zika. Nationally, there have been over 1300 reported cases, almost all believed to be travel-related.

“This case, however, is unusual,” says Gary Edwards, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department. “The individual does not have any of the known risk factors we’ve seen thus far with Zika virus.”

Edwards says the person has not recently traveled to an area with Zika and has not had sex with someone who has traveled to such an area or with someone who is infected. What is known is that the new case was a family contact who helped care for an individual who had been infected with Zika and who died from unknown causes. Edwards says at this point, they don’t know if contact between the two people played any role in the transmission of the disease.

“There is uncertainty about how this new case contracted Zika, but we do not believe that there is risk of Zika transmission among the general public in Utah based on what we know so far,” he says. There is no evidence at this time that mosquitoes that commonly spread the virus are in Utah.

Local health officials are working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on an investigation. Dr. Angela Dunn is deputy state epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health.

“Right now, we’re exploring every avenue,” Dunn says. “We’re working with those who had close contact with the deceased patient in determining exactly what type of contact they had and testing their clinical samples for Zika virus as well.”

In the meantime, health officials say the public, and especially pregnant women, should continue to take recommended steps to protect themselves from Zika virus.

Andrea Smardon is new at KUER, but she has worked in public broadcasting for more than a decade. Most recently, she worked as a reporter and news announcer for WGBH radio. While in Boston, she produced stories for Morning Edition, Marketplace Money, and The World. Her print work was published in The Boston Globe and Prior to that, she worked at Seattleââ
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