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Physicians Say Zika Could Cause Eye, Spine Problems

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The Zika virus is not just an issue for pregnant women any more.

"Now we're understanding the full spectrum of this disease, and it's much more serious than what we initially thought," said Dr. Amesh Adalja on Friday.

At a taping of the KD-PG Sunday Edition show, hosted by KDKA money & politics editor Jon Delano and PG associate editor John Allison, Dr. Adalja at the UPMC Center for Health Security and Dr. Karen Hacker, Allegheny County's health director, warned that Zika is spreading.

"Now it has become a major public health threat to the world," said Adalja.

"The first warnings were about travel to infected countries but now there's more," said Dr. Hacker.

"The biggest risk right now is in travel and that has been something that we've been talking about for a long time. The second risk, however, as we get into mosquito season is going to be the potential as we've talked about for mosquitos here in Allegheny County that might carry this," warned Hacker.

Many who get Zika never know it and the vast majority recover, but health officials say its consequences are more than originally thought.

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Besides microcephaly or a smaller size head at birth, the virus could cause damage to nerve tissue in the eye, neurological problems in adults, including inflammation of the brain, and Guillain-Bare syndrome, a form of paralysis, plus there's a recent case of a young girl with spinal cord inflammation.

One concern is that someone gets infected -- brings the virus back to Pittsburgh -- and gets bitten by a local mosquito who spreads the virus to other mosquitos that bite more people.

And it's not mosquito bites alone.

Adalja: "It can get into the semen of men and persist there for several months, 62 days I think."

Delano: "Heterosexual and homosexual?"

Adalja: "Yes, so that's why we recommend that men who have been in areas where Zika was present that they practice safe sexual relations."

So besides safe sex, watching where you travel, and using bug repellent, says Hacker, "even more importantly, getting rid of standing water."

"We know that that is where mosquitoes breed," she explained.


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