Evanston officials respond to discovery of three Zika cases in Illinois

Cydney Hayes, Reporter

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After three cases of Zika virus have been recorded this year in Illinois, Evanston officials said residents need not worry about contracting the disease in the city.

Two of the three infected Illinois residents are pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Carl Caneva, the assistant director of Evanston’s health and human services department, said people must understand the women did not contract the virus in Illinois but rather in countries where the virus has recently been spreading.

The Zika virus is most commonly transmitted via bites from mosquitoes that inhabit hot, humid regions, according to the CDC. The World Health Organization has located Zika in Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, Puerto Rico and other countries with similar climates. The symptoms include fever, joint pain and rashes, although some people who contract Zika may not ever know they had it.

“Only about 20 percent of people who get infected will actually show any symptoms,” Caneva said.

Zika’s alleged link to birth defects such as microcephaly — abnormally small head size — has been publicized by the media for the past few months. Late last month, the El Salvador government urged women not to get pregnant to prevent birth defects in case they contract the virus.

Whether or not those who do not show symptoms would have children with birth defects is not yet clear, Caneva said.

Medill junior Isabella Gutierrez contracted Zika over winter break while visiting family in Venezuela. She said her bout with Zika lasted a little over a week. Since there is no formal treatment or vaccination for Zika, Gutierrez said she simply had to rest, drink fluids and wait for the symptoms to pass.

With limited over-the-counter medicine and scarce water supply in Venezuela, Gutierrez said recovering was probably much more difficult than it would have been if she had been in Evanston.

“The one thing people do need to worry about is travel,” she said. “Some of my friends are talking about going to Brazil for spring break, and I just don’t know why they would put themselves in danger of getting it like that.”

Regardless of the danger level in Evanston, local officials said they are doing what they can to make sure residents feel safe.

“We’re trying to stay up to date with the research by talking a lot with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the CDC so we can get Evanston residents all the information they need,” said Charlotte Picard, a communicable disease surveillance specialist for the city.

Caneva said since the virus is not contagious from person to person, and mosquitoes cannot survive in Chicago winter temperatures, Evanston residents most likely do not have to worry much about contracting Zika in the city.

Email: alisonhayes2019@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @thecydneyhayes