Puerto Rico Reports First Death Related to Zika Virus amid Outbreak

Zika Virus Aedes Aegypti Mosquito
Photo Credit: CDC/James Gathany

Puerto Rico recorded the first death related to Zika virus amid an outbreak in the U.S. territory, which is seeking federal funding to prevent an epidemic. According to Health Secretary Ana Rius, the victim was a 70-year old man from the San Juan metro area.

The man recovered from initial symptoms of Zika virus infection. However he developed a condition wherein the antibodies formed in reaction to the virus started attacking his blood platelet cells. He suffered from internal bleeding and died less than 24 hours after seeking help at a health center in late February.

Secretary Rius said three other patients in Puerto Rico were reported with severe thrombocytopenia— a condition where a person suffers from low platelet count and excess bleeding could happen if the person is cut or injured. Spontaneous bleeding can also happen when his/her platelet numbers are very low. According to Rius, those patients recovered successfully from their condition.

Update on Ongoing Zika Virus transmission

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an update on the ongoing Zika Virus transmission indicated that 683 patients in Puerto Rico had Zika virus infection based on laboratory tests.

The CDC evaluated 6,157 specimens from suspected Zika virus-infected patients from Puerto Rico on November 1, 2015 to April 14, 2016. The Zika virus–infected patients resided in 50 of 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico.

According to the CDC, the Zika virus transmission in the U.S. territory is ongoing. Health officials increased the capacity to test for Zika virus. They are preventing infection in pregnant women, monitoring infected pregnant women and their fetus for adverse outcomes, controlling mosquitos and assuring the safety of blood products.

Secretary Rius said 89 pregnant women are infected with Zika virus in Puerto Rico. Fourteen of the infected pregnant women have given birth and their babies are healthy.

Health officials reported that Zika virus infection causes microcephaly and other severe birth defects. It is also linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Puerto Rico health centers receives $5 million funding from HHS

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) recently provided $5 million funding to 20 health centers in Puerto Rico to fight Zika virus. Health centers will use the money to expand voluntary planning services including contraceptive services, outreach and education, and to hire more staff.

HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell said, “In Puerto Rico, and around the world, the Zika virus is a serious and challenging health threat. We are committed to doing everything we can to combat this threat and to help strengthen health care in Puerto Rico.”

Pres. Obama requested $1.9 billion emergency funding

President Barack Obama requested the Congress to approve a $1.9 billion emergency fund to prevent the spread of Zika virus. The Congress hasn’t acted on the request because the Republicans are opposing it.

Republican leaders argued that the Congress can deal with the issue during the spending process next year.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) recently commented, “It doesn’t take a lot of thought to realize that this is a request for a blank check without regard for the accountability …”

He added, “What they want to do is play a shell game with this money. They want to get the money and if they don’t need it to deal with Zika, they can transfer it for other purposes, again without any transparency, without any real political accountability.”