Gov. Matt Bevin and officials from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services discussed Kentucky’s first confirmed case of Zika virus on Thursday.
A Louisville man who had recently been traveling in a Central American country tested positive for the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the test results March 9.
Bevin said the best way to prepare for more potential cases of the virus is through education, knowledge and forward thinking.
“As people are thinking about service projects and mission trips and any number of other things that may take them into Zika virus-infected areas, it’s important for Kentuckians to start to think about what the impact might be in our state,” he said.
Vickie Yates Glisson, secretary of CFHS, said the agency — through the Department of Public Health — has been preparing for a potential Zika case for several months.
“We do have a plan. We feel that we’re prepared. We’re going to continue to prepare. We’re going to continue to refine that plan,” she said.
Kraig Humbaugh, senior deputy commissioner for DPH, is leading efforts to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Glisson said there have been regular webinars and conference calls between the CDC and the cabinet on its action plan concerning Zika virus. She said the state has developed a plan for communicating with residents, too.
Glisson said clinicians and hospitals have been reminded to be observant of their patients.
“It’s been helpful to make sure that we just remind hospitals and clinicians that you may have a patient who may come and these are the kinds of symptoms you may see and if you see these symptoms you need to know that you may need to let us know because they may have the Zika virus,” she said.
The CDC has advised state officials to partner with Kentucky Emergency Management and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
Zika, an infectious viral illness, is primarily spread through the bite of a mosquito that carries the virus. Zika is not known to be circulating in the mosquito population in Kentucky – or any other part of the United States.
Humbaugh said most Kentuckians are not at risk for Zika virus infection unless they’ve traveled recently to affected areas, including South America, the Caribbean and Central America.
He said symptoms are mild in most individuals, but the virus poses a threat to pregnant women.
“There is increasing evidence that pregnant women who get infected with the virus are at increased risk at giving birth to babies who have birth defects that involve the developing brain,” Humbaugh said.
The virus is linked to the birth defect microcephaly, a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development and abnormal smallness of the head. The virus has also been associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause paralysis in individuals who have been infected.
Humbaugh said the state collects information on the incidence of birth defects and disabilities through the Kentucky Birth Surveillance Registry. It will monitor incidences of birth defects for any connections to Zika going forward, he said.
Last month, Indiana health officials confirmed the state’s first case of Zika, found in a person who had recently returned from a trip to Haiti.