Knox County Zika virus cases raise resident concerns

Knox County has reported four cases of the Zika Virus since July.

Diane O’Neill Clements, a teacher at Yoga Alliance, is concerned for potential grandchildren after her daughter and her daughter’s fiancé contracted the Zika virus during their medical mission trip to Haiti.

“They’re not pregnant or planning to be, but as a mom, I’m concerned for future grandchildren,” Clements said. “No one knows how long it lasts in one’s system.”

The first case of the Zika virus was found in Knox County, Tenn., in July when a person recently returned from a Zika-infected country, according to the Knox County Health Department. Since then, three more cases have been reported.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda and is named after the Zika Forest. While the first human cases of Zika were reported in 1952, it was not until mid-2016 when the widespread epidemic occurred.

With this major outbreak, more people are reconsidering travel plans.

Jessica Pfister, a pregnant stay-at-home mom from Spring Hill, Tenn. said she and her husband canceled their trip to Florida in October to visit family because they did not want to risk anything.

“From the moment you see that second line on a test, it’s your job to protect this tiny human growing inside of you,” Pfister said.

The virus can cause serious birth defects if the mother is infected during pregnancy, according to the CDC.

NPR health correspondent, Rob Stein, said the Zika virus can cause serious and devastating damage. Stein said some researchers published brain scans of Brazilian babies that contracted the virus through their mothers who had Zika while pregnant.

“Whole portions of these babies and fetuses’ nervous systems are just missing, like parts of their brain stem, parts of their spinal cord,” Stein said.

Erin Grammatico, a business analyst for a speech recognition software company who is 28 weeks pregnant, said the idea that Zika could become an out of control epidemic is what gets her the most.

“How long before a person infected gets bitten by a mosquito and then we have the same problem Florida is facing?” Grammatico said.

Knox County Health Department director, Dr. Martha Buchanan, said the four cases of the Zika virus in Knox County are people that have traveled to infected countries.

“There is no mosquito transmission in Knox County,” Buchanan said.

Most people who have Zika do not know they have it because they do not show any symptoms, according to the CDC. Symptoms are very mild and include a fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. Some may also experience headaches or muscle pain. The symptoms are similar to other mosquito transmitted viruses such as dengue and chikungunya.

Grammatico said she fears her husband may contract the virus.

“Since the virus can be spread sexually it’s not just about protecting myself when I go out anymore. He has to be protected too,” Grammatico said.

Dr. Spencer Gregg, health director for the student health center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said there is not a prominent risk to UT’s campus.

“Zika has not been shown to be transmitted by mosquitos in this region and is therefore not yet a significant risk for transmission in that manner [at UT],” Gregg said. “However, the potential for transmission through sexual contact with someone who is infected due to recent travel or sexual contact does exist.”

Gregg said they have been working to prevent exposure at the Student Health Center.

“Measures have already been taken to reduce and control mosquito breeding grounds on and around campus by reducing and removing standing water,” Gregg said. “All students involved in University-sponsored international travel and study abroad programs have also been notified and advised of risk reduction measures.”

Anyone traveling to infected areas are advised to wear long sleeve shirts and long pants, use insect repellant that contains DEET and use permethrin-treated clothing and gear.

Featured image by Kaitlin Flippo

Edited by Taylor Owens