Utah sees first Zika-related death in continental US, health officials say

Elderly Salt Lake County resident, who also had another health condition, contracted virus while travelling outside the country, authorities say

A person infected with Zika has died in Utah, and while the exact cause is unclear, authorities said Friday it marks the first death related to the virus in the continental US.

The unidentified Salt Lake County resident contracted the virus while travelling abroad to an area with a Zika outbreak, health officials said.

The patient, who died in late June, was elderly and also suffered from another health condition, according to the Salt Lake County health department.

The person had Zika symptoms including rash, fever and conjunctivitis but its unclear if or how the virus contributed to the death, said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman Benjamin Haynes.

Officials discovered the case while reviewing death certificates, and lab tests confirmed their suspicions, said Gary Edwards, executive director of the Salt Lake County health department.

Utah authorities refused to release additional information about the patient or where he or she travelled, citing health privacy laws.

Dagmar Vitek, left, medical director at the Salt Lake County health department, speaks while Gary Edwards, the departments executive director, looks on. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

The virus causes only a mild illness in most people. But during recent outbreaks in Latin America, scientists discovered that infection during pregnancy has led to severe brain-related birth defects.

Its spread mainly through the bite of a tropical mosquito.

No cases of locally transmitted, mosquito-borne Zika have been reported in the continental United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But a 70-year-old man from the San Juan metro area in the US territory of Puerto Rico died in late February. Officials said he recovered from initial Zika symptoms, but then developed a condition in which antibodies that formed in reaction to the Zika infection started attacking blood platelet cells. He died after suffering internal bleeding.

More than 1,100 Zika illnesses have been reported in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, including six in Salt Lake County, according to health officials.

Almost all were people who had travelled to Zika outbreak countries and caught the virus there.

But 14 were people who had not travelled to Zika zones but had had sex with someone who had.

The CDC has also been tracking pregnant women infected with Zika, and says it has five reports of pregnancy losses because of miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/09/zika-death-utah-salt-lake