Centers for Disease Control gives California grant to gather information on Zika

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In an effort to combat the recent spread of the Zika virus around the country, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention granted the state of California $720,000 to study its effects and gather information on the virus Aug. 2.

The money, which is the latest in a series of federal grants to help states manage the Zika virus, is intended to help California collect data about birth defects caused by Zika and refer infants and families to health professionals but is not designated for treatment, according to CDC spokesperson Bert Kelley.

“I think the government is responding as well as it possibly can,” said Lenore Pereira, a cell and tissue biology professor at UCSF, who recently coauthored a paper on the way the Zika virus targets human cells.

Patients with Zika usually show few to no symptoms, which can include fever, red eyes, rashes and joint pains. Being infected with Zika during pregnancy, however, can result in a birth defect known as microcephaly, in which the baby is born with an abnormally small head. In a small number of cases, Zika has also been associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome, when the body’s immune system attacks its own nerves.

Symptoms generally fade after a week, although the Zika virus remains in the bloodstream and can be sexually transmitted, possibly for a few months after it is acquired.

As of Friday, the California Department of Public Health, or CDPH, has confirmed 134 cases of travel-acquired Zika in California, 10 of which are in Alameda County. On Sunday, a baby was born in Alameda County with microcephaly, and there have been 23 confirmed cases of Zika in pregnant women in California, all of which the CDPH is actively monitoring.

In California, there have been no reported cases of viral transmission of the virus yet, but according to the CDPH, the species of mosquitoes that carries the Zika virus lives in the state. Abram Arredondo, a spokesperson for the CDPH, said in an email that local pockets of Zika infection could crop up in areas of California where people have been infected with the virus but that the CDPH anticipates that such an outbreak would have a limited range and duration in California.

“Most (mosquitoes) don’t live very long or travel very far,” Pereira said.

The CDPH has also released a health advisory on the spread of the Zika virus and is currently working with local authorities to reduce the population of the Aedes mosquito, which can carry the Zika virus. Pereira said that such methods will help California “stay ahead” of viral transmission.

There currently exists no vaccine for the Zika virus and, according to Pereira, diagnosis of the virus is difficult because the antibodies produced by the body in response to the virus are similar to those produced in response to dengue fever.

According to the CDC website, ways to avoid Zika include avoiding mosquito bites and using condoms to prevent sexual transmission of the virus.

Contact Mira Chaplin at [email protected].