Pennsylvania health officials held an emergency response training exercise Friday to prepare for the possible spread and local transmission of the Zika virus.
More than 200 people in Pennsylvania have tested positive for Zika, a mosquito-borne illness linked to severe brain defects in babies born to infected mothers.
Nationwide, there are reports of almost 5,200 Zika cases, the majority of which involve travelers who returned to the United States from heavily infected areas such as South and Central America and the Caribbean. About 220 U.S. Zika cases were linked to local transmissions in Texas and Florida.
There is no evidence that Pennsylvania mosquitoes have trasmitted Zika, but a type of mosquito found in the southeastern portion of the state has the potential to carry the virus, state Department of Health officials said. Zika also can be transmitted sexually.
"Zika continues to be a major threat to pregnant women and those of child-bearing age," state Secretary of Health Karen Murphy said. "Although there have been no cases of individuals affected by mosquitoes in Pennsylvania, exercises like this one allow the department and our partners to train for potential scenarios and better protect the health of all Pennsylvanians."
Emergency responders, local health departments and medical workers joined state Department of Health officials in Montgomery County for Friday's training session, which included going over proper protocols, communication channels and response strategies for potential Zika outbreaks, state health spokeswoman April Hutcheson said.
Zika primarily is transmitted by Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito that thrives in tropical areas and exists in the southern United States. A second mosquito species, Aedes albopictus, may carry the virus and has been found in greater Philadelphia.
The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. The illness usually is mild with symptoms lasting for several days to a week, and many infected people do not show symptoms.
There is no vaccine available to prevent Zika. University of Pittsburgh researchers are among experts working on developing one.
In June, an unidentified Pitt researcher reportedly became infected with Zika by accidentally sticking herself with a needle while working with the virus in a laboratory.
Health officials said residents can prevent infection by using EPA-registered insect repellants, putting up window screens or insecticide-treated netting on homes and routinely changing or eliminating standing bodies of water.
This article is written by Natasha Lindstrom from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.