Marquette forum warns of possible Zika exposure in Wisconsin

61 confirmed cases in Wisconsin

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - With spring break around the corner, Marquette University hosted a forum on the Zika virus Thursday morning at the Alumni Memorial Union.

The virus, which is a concern in areas like South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, has been linked to severe birth defects in some babies born to women infected with it.

Laurieann Klockow, a clinical assistant professor of biomedical sciences at Marquette, said roughly 80 percent of those infected with Zika show no signs or symptoms.

But she said it’s still important people be aware of the risks Zika presents – particularly to unborn fetuses. The most publicized is microcephaly, in which a baby’s head is smaller than normal.

The defect significantly impacts brain development.

“If somebody were to become pregnant, particularly an unintended pregnancy in which they’re not thinking about Zika, that could have severe outcomes on their baby’s health,” Klockow said.

She said Zika is spread either through mosquitoes or sexual intercourse.

Klockow added the two types of mosquitoes that spread Zika currently don’t live in Wisconsin’s climate, so cases of the virus here would have to be contracted elsewhere by people who are traveling.

Although Paul Biedrzycki, the City of Milwaukee Health Department’s Director of Disease Control and Environmental Health, said one of the two varieties of mosquitoes does reside in Illinois.

Biedrzycki said the health department will ramp up its monitoring of mosquitoes in our area this summer as temperatures warm.

“The mosquito range for one of the vectors does touch the border of Wisconsin,” he said. “With changes in climate, we feel those mosquito isotherms – the geographic range of those mosquitoes – can shift and include portions of Wisconsin. Particularly the southern portion of Wisconsin.”

Biedrzycki said the city will also continue to monitor any local cases of Zika going forward.

Biedrzycki said there have so far been 61 confirmed cases of Zika in the Badger State. He said roughly 15 to 20 percent of those cases, all of which have been linked to travel, were in Milwaukee County.

He said the city will likely launch a public awareness and prevention campaign sometime in late spring or early summer.

Right now, there’s no treatment available for the Zika virus. But Biedrzycki said a vaccine is currently development and human clinical trials could begin later this year.

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