S.C. reports first two travel-associated Zika cases of 2017, but focus remains on summer

January 18, 2017 GMT

This year’s first few Zika cases among South Carolina residents were reported last week, bringing the state total to 59 travel-associated cases.

The cases were the first ones reported in South Carolina since Dec. 16.

Though 2017 may produce more cases than the 57 reported in 2016, experts believe Zika numbers should be analyzed based on seasons rather than time of year.

“I would not use a calendar year as a cut off for numbers, since mosquitoes are mostly active in the summer,” said Robert Ball, an adjunct health professor at the Medical University of South Carolina.

To his point, state cases peaked in July and August last year, with 20 cases reported in each month.

Ball said the recent cases are likely due to vacationing during the holiday season.

The Zika virus is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, both of which are found in South Carolina. Experts confirmed last year that Zika is linked to an often-fatal condition called microcephaly in newborn babies. In those cases, the mothers are infected with Zika during pregnancy.

Of the 59 cases reported by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, only one was caused by sexual transmission. None of the cases in the state were locally transmitted, and there is still no evidence that the mosquitoes in this state are carriers of the virus.

Nationwide, nearly 4,700 cases have been reported to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention. That includes more than 200 locally transmitted cases.

Zika was a heavily debated topic last year. President Barack Obama asked Congress in February to appropriate $1.9 billion to combat the virus. Following several months of debate, Congress eventually passed a $1.1 billion measure in September.

“There’s adequate funding thus far,” Ball said. “The need for further funding will be based on how many new cases we continue to see.”

South Carolina received millions of dollars in Zika funding last year to protect public health, especially among pregnant women. Funds are also being used to improve mosquito control and monitoring, and to strengthen laboratory capacity.

“We don’t have any (Zika case) projections for the upcoming season, but we are prepared for it,” said DHEC spokesman Robert Yanity.

DHEC has urged local residents to play a large role in prevention. The agency advises people to refrain from housing standing bodies of water around their yards, and to protect themselves from mosquito bites.