Zika Hits Close to Home for Pitt Microbiologist; in Brazil, the Fear of Zika Is Causing Pregnant Women to Consider Fleeing the Region to Avoid Any Chance at Transmitting Birth Defects Associated with the Mosquito-Borne Virus. [Derived Headline]

By Schmitt, Ben | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 23, 2016 | Go to article overview

Zika Hits Close to Home for Pitt Microbiologist; in Brazil, the Fear of Zika Is Causing Pregnant Women to Consider Fleeing the Region to Avoid Any Chance at Transmitting Birth Defects Associated with the Mosquito-Borne Virus. [Derived Headline]


Schmitt, Ben, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


In Brazil, the fear of Zika is causing pregnant women to consider fleeing the region to avoid any chance at transmitting birth defects associated with the mosquito-borne virus.

Some men are afraid to get close to their pregnant wives.

These are the tales from the University of Pittsburgh's Dr. Ernesto Marques, a front-runner in the race to produce a vaccine against the ever-spreading Zika virus. The physician and microbiologist, whose hometown of Recife is the epicenter of the Brazilian Zika outbreak, is in South America vigorously studying all aspects of the virus.

"We are here fighting Zika in Brazil," he told the Tribune- Review from Recife on Tuesday. "We have to fight a very tiny germ that we don't know much about. We have to learn a lot very quickly."

Marques, an associate professor of infectious diseases and microbiology at Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health, learned one thing quickly when he arrived in Brazil in early February: People there are terrified. Zika is linked to microcephaly, a condition in which babies are born with smaller-than-normal heads and often smaller, improperly developed brains.

"I know firsthand of examples of women here in Brazil who are saying they would move to Europe or the United States if they became pregnant," he said.

The United States may not be a safe haven.

Zika is primarily transmitted by Aedes aegypti, a species of mosquito that thrives in tropical areas and exists in the southern United States, surfacing in warmer months. The Asian tiger mosquito, a secondary type of mosquito that can carry the disease, is found in Pennsylvania, but it's unknown how prevalent the virus will be in that mosquito.

Marques' work may be even more urgent in light of an announcement Tuesday by federal health officials indicating 14 cases of Zika in the United States being possibly transmitted by sex. The 14 cases involve men who visited areas with Zika outbreaks and who may have infected their female sex partners, who had not traveled to those areas.

Despite the revelations regarding sexual transmission, the "main mode of transmission is the mosquito," Marques said.

His job is to help develop and test a vaccine, which he said will, realistically, take several years to produce, even working at a breakneck pace.

He traveled from Brazil to Puerto Rico last week to attend a World Health Organization meeting about Zika. …

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