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Zika virus confirmed in U.S. patient

A female Aedes aegypti mosquito

James Gathany. Provided by CDC/Paul I. Howell, MPH; Prof. Frank Hadley Collins

Last Updated Jan 12, 2016 1:46 PM EST

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed a case of Zika virus in a traveler from Texas who recently returned from Latin America, CBS Houston affiliate KHOU reports.

According to a statement from Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services, the patient developed symptoms often associated with Zika virus, including fever, rash, and joint pain.

The virus is spread by the Aedes mosquito.

The illness was first identified in the Americas less than two years ago and has spread rapidly across South and Central America. Since the first local case of Zika was detected in Brazil last May, health officials estimate between 440,000 and 1.3 million people there have caught it.

Several cases were detected in Mexico in November, and the first case in Puerto Rico was reported two weeks ago.

Scientists in Brazil say they have linked the infections to a recent uptick in cases of microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads, which often leads to mental retardation.

Over 2,700 babies in Brazil were born with microcephaly in 2015, up from fewer than 150 in 2014. Health officials there say they believe the rise is connected to the sudden outbreak of the Zika virus, but international experts caution it's too early to be sure and note the condition can have many other causes.

According to the CDC, in most patients illness from Zika is relatively mild, with symptoms lasting several days to a week. Severe illness requiring hospitalization is uncommon and deaths are rare. There is no vaccine to prevent it and no medicine to treat Zika virus infection.

"There is a perfect storm brewing for Zika virus in the U.S.," Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston, told Medscape Medical News. "I was never worried that Ebola would take off here, but I am worried about Zika. We have 2 species of Aedes mosquitoes that can transmit Zika in our area." He urged health officials to monitor the situation closely and consider aggressive mosquito-control measures if cases emerge among people who have not traveled outside the country.

The CDC recommends that all people, especially pregnant women, who are traveling to areas where Zika virus is found should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites to reduce their risk of infection with Zika as well as other mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue and chikungunya.

"Prevention is key to reducing the risk of Zika virus infection," said Dr. Umair A. Shah, executive director of Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services. "Zika virus infections occur throughout the world. We encourage individuals traveling to areas where the virus has been identified to protect themselves against mosquito bites, and to contact their healthcare provider immediately if they develop Zika virus-like symptoms."