S.C. — I remember the moment I thought that I could have
contracted Zika virus.
our fourth wedding anniversary, and my husband and I wanted to
go somewhere dreamy and tropical with pristine beaches. We
decided that we would spend May 19 and several days
surrounding it in the Dominican Republic.
sitting in comfy patio chairs in an open-air stage at our
resort watching a bad Michael Jackson impersonator while
enjoying our cold beverages when I felt a familiar stinging
and burning on my leg.
thought it was strange because I had not seen any mosquitoes
at all since I had gotten there. I could have sworn I heard
someone mention the resort sprayed for mosquitoes.
shrugged it off. "Maybe they’re just biting gnats, or
maybe I nicked myself when I shaved my legs earlier."
religiously worn bug spray the first two days there, and the
second night I decided to forgo it. After all, I hated the
smell and I hadn’t come across any of those biting critters
since we landed.
mentioned it to my husband. He said he had not been bitten, so
I sat there, enduring about half a dozen or so more instances
of that uncomfortable sensation.
couldn’t take any more, we walked back to the room. I saw
several half-dollar-sized welts pop up on my legs. Per usual,
they itched and they burned, but the possible implications
were far worse.
week and a half after we returned, I met with Dr. Jeff Hall,
who supervises the travel clinic for the Palmetto
Health/University of South Carolina Medical Group. The clinic
provides primarily pre-travel consultations for people
traveling abroad on how to avoid regional maladies, such as
malaria and even Zika virus.
said Zika is nothing new, though the link to birth defects is
recent. The virus was discovered in the 1940s and is spread by
mosquito bites or through semen. Other than avoiding mosquito
bites, there’s no other form of prevention. No vaccine, no
the symptoms are fairly mild, including a fever, joint pain,
rashes and conjunctivitis.
Uh oh. I
had worn glasses that day instead of contacts due to
unexplained redness and irritation in one of my eyes. I had
also some moderate headaches the week after I came back with
some mild fevers.
said the major concern for those contracting Zika is when it
causes microcephaly, meaning the head of a fetus is too small,
often meaning the brain is also too small.
it looks like is that the Zika virus seems to attack
developing brain tissue and stops brain growth at a very early
time," he said. "Those babies are born with very
small heads and very small brains and seem to be significantly
husband and I don’t plan to have children for a couple more
years, but I learned the concern isn’t just for people
wanting to expand their families immediately. Everyone who is
bitten in a Zika-ravaged area has the potential to bring it
back home with them as an unintentional, unwanted souvenir.
said the same breeds of mosquitoes that spread the virus also
live in South Carolina. If someone with the virus came to the
state and was bitten, it could spread to other people.
"This could be something that could be very easy to
transmit here," he said. " … It seems like it’s
not unlikely that we could have some Zika virus in the
Southeast. It’s just not happening to date yet."
started to set in. How careless was I for not doing everything
I could to protect not just myself but everyone around me?
Hall heard my symptoms, he became concerned. He said I had two
options: Receive approval for testing by the S.C. Department
of Health & Environmental Control (DHEC) or pay a private
lab, Quest Diagnostics, $500.
second option was out of the question.
is) keeping a fairly tight rein on this testing right
now," Hall said. "They’re focusing their efforts
on testing people of what they consider to be the highest
risk, which is going to be folks who have traveled in an area
affected by Zika and have either had symptoms or if they’re
Teresa Foo, DHEC medical consultant, said anyone who has
traveled to a Zika-affected area and is exhibiting one or more
of the symptoms should see their health care provider for
assessment. If the physician believes the symptoms could be
connected to Zika exposures, he or she can contact DHEC to
it’s determined a person does meet the criteria for testing,
we work with the physician to get the sample to our lab where
the testing is then done," Foo said.
explained my symptoms to a DHEC representative, received
approval shortly after and gave a urine and blood sample.
waiting game began. In the meantime, DHEC gave me specific
instructions to avoid going outside when possible or wear
insect repellent and long sleeves and pants.
reported South Carolina has six confirmed cases of Zika virus,
one of which was sexually transmitted.
said anyone bitten by mosquitoes in Columbia does not have to
worry about Zika, and testing is reserved for those who are at
Davis, DHEC director of the Division of acute disease
epidemiology, said at this time there’s no risk to public
health from those cases, five of which were because those
people traveled to Zika-impacted countries. "We do expect
the number of travel-associated infections to continue to go
up as this summer goes on and people begin their travel
plans," Davis said.
in February to form a Zika Task Force to prepare for potential
outbreaks, which includes spraying for mosquitoes in areas
where South Carolina residents with Zika virus live and
said men exhibiting symptoms should also be tested for Zika
virus, too, if they have been bitten in affected regions. He
said one way Zika is different from other mosquito-borne
illnesses is that it can be spread through sexual contact.
concern is for sexual transmission," he said. "The
virus does seem to persist in semen longer than it persists in
said the best strategy to avoid Zika is to avoid mosquito
bites by using insect repellent, such as DEET, picaridin or
permethrin. People who return from a Zika-affected area and
may have been exposed are asked to use insect repellent when
they return home for at least eight weeks to reduced the
chance of it becoming a locally transmitted infection. Men who
may have been exposed should avoid spreading it through semen
for at least six months.
about a week to hear back from Hall, but I’m glad to report
that a health crisis was averted. Well, at least one caused by
my experience can serve as a reminder to others about the
possible risks associated with traveling internationally, and
how we can bring those problems home with us.
infected people will have no or only mild symptoms, which can
last for several days to a week. Zika virus usually remains in
the blood of an infected person for about a week, but it can
be found longer in some people.
AND TERRITORIES WITH ACTIVE ZIKA VIRUS TRANSMISSION
Aruba, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Bonaire, Brazil, Colombia,
Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican
Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Grenada,
Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica,
Martinique, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint
Barthélemy, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Vincent and the
Grenadines, Saint Maarten, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, U.S.
Virgin Islands, Venezuela,
Samoa, Fiji, Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall
Islands, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga
mosquitoes that carry Zika are aggressive daytime biters, but
they can also bite at night. A mosquito becomes infected when
it bites a person already infected with Zika. That mosquito
can then spread the virus by biting more people. Zika virus
can also spread:
During sex with a man infected with Zika.
a pregnant woman to her fetus during pregnancy or around the
time of birth.
Through blood transfusion (likely but not confirmed).
CDC. To learn more about Zika virus, visit