- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas has had only five Zika virus cases, and various state agencies and university laboratories are looking for ways to keep that number at a minimum.

There have been 820 cases of Zika in the U.S., but there have been no in-country mosquito-borne cases, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All of Kansas’ cases involved people who had traveled abroad, the Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/29iJYQo ) reported.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has started a statewide surveillance program to monitor the mosquitoes that spread Zika, and is getting ready to release a plan of action.

The Kansas Biosecurity Research Institute at Kansas State University has increased research on the virus in recent months, and the Shawnee County Health Agency has started an awareness campaign to deter any further spread.

The Zika virus can be carried in two types of Aedes mosquito, often doesn’t include severe symptoms and rarely leads to death. But it has been linked to some severe birth defects such as microcephaly, where an infant’s head doesn’t develop to full size.

“Because of our expertise and our capabilities, we were contacted by collaborators to work with them on research,” said Stephen Higgs, director of the Kansas Biosecurity Research Institute. “So we’re growing up the virus and providing it to collaborators.”

In addition to growing the virus, Higgs said he and his students are infecting mosquitoes with the virus to gain information, such as the length of the dissemination period for the insects.

Though Zika was discovered in 1947, Higgs said, there had been less than 50 cases of it until 2007.

“It was a very poorly studied virus and now it’s in completely new areas of the world and we just don’t have the answers to explain why it’s causing these very unusual symptoms,” he said. “No other mosquito-transmitted virus has been connected with these serious birth defects before. It’s completely new and obviously quite devastating.”

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This story has been corrected to show that the institute director’s last name is Higgs, not Higgins.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com


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