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Life Health > Health Insurance

Zika spreads to the Tampa area

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A public health agency has found a locally spread case of the Zika virus in Pinellas County, Florida — in the area around Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Officials at the Florida Department of Health are not giving any more details about the location of the individual in Pinellas County who has Zika, but Tampa is about 300 miles away from Dade County, Florida.

Zika can spread via mosquito bites, sex, and blood transfusions. It can also spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus, through the placenta.

Related: Pregnant women should avoid Miami Zika outbreak area, CDC warns

The Florida health department is still testing people around the Pinellas County individual with Zika to see if the virus is spreading in that area.

The department has already confirmed that Zika appears to be spreading in two communities in Dade County: Miami Beach and Wynwood, a neighborhood in Miami. If authorities find that mosquitoes are spreading Zika in Pinellas County, that could dramatically increase the odds that Zika will spread to enough mainland U.S. communities to have an effect on insurers’ health, disability and long-term care insurance morbidity risk.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that Zika may cause neurological problems and other problems in about 1 percent to 13 percent of the babies who were exposed to Zika in the womb. The CDC has estimated that the lifetime cost of caring for a baby born with serious Zika-related neurological problems could range from $1 million to $4 million.

In adults and children, Zika can cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a condition that may lead to permanent partial or complete paralysis. Researchers have said that Zika-related Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases that occurred during a recent outbreak in French Polynesia led to lingering paralysis in about half of the 42 people affected, or about one case of lingering partial or complete paralysis per 14,000 residents.

Related: Could Zika paralyze hundreds of U.S. adults?

In Puerto Rico, where Zika has been spreading rapidly, the Puerto Rico Department of Health has reported finding a total of 34 Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases related to Zika or similar viruses and about 13,000 cases of Zika, in a commonwealth with a total population of about 3.5 million. The health department figures mean that the commonwealth has recorded about one case of Guillain Barre Syndrome for every 400 people who test positive for Zika, and about one case of the syndrome for every 100,000 residents.

The Puerto Rico health department has not published data on the number of new cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome-related paralysis in Puerto Rico, but department officials said a man died from the condition there last week.

Zika-related Guillain-Barre Syndrome does not appear to be as powerful of a cause of paralysis as polio. When polio was at its peak, in the 1940s and 1950s, public health agencies were recording about one case of paralysis for every 200 polio infections, according to the World Health Organization. An epidemic in the United States in 1952 led to about 25,000 cases in a country with a total population of about 150 million, or about one paralytic case per 6,000 U.S. residents, according to a paper published in Risk Analysis in 2007.

But, if Zika-related Guillain-Barre Syndrome led to a few extra cases of paralysis per 100,000 residents in a community, it could become a major paralysis risk factor in that community.

The Birmingham, Alabama-based National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center says that that the United States may get about one new case of injury-related paralysis per 25,000 residents per year. 


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