Puerto Rico reports 1st death from paralysis linked to Zika

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Zika Puerto Rico

Employees with the municipal government collect used tires in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as part of an island-wide effort to stop the spread of the Zika virus. (Angel Valentin/Getty)

Puerto Rico on Friday reported its first death from a paralysis condition that developed from a Zika infection as the U.S. territory fights an epidemic of the mosquito-borne virus.

The victim was a man between 35 and 45 years old from the San Juan metro area who died from Guillain-Barre, according to state epidemiologist Brenda Rivera. The condition can cause temporary paralysis and in rare instances, death.

Rivera noted that it’s unusual for the victim to be so young.

“What does this tell us? That all of us are susceptible,” Rivera said as she urged Puerto Ricans to protect themselves from the mosquito-borne virus.

The man, who died last month, was obese but did not have any other health conditions, she said. No further details about the victim were provided.

The U.S. territory has a total of 13,186 confirmed Zika cases, with a total of 102 hospitalizations and 34 cases of Guillain-Barre. The number of cases is believed to be much higher because eight of 10 people have no symptoms and many do not go to the doctor. Those infected include 1,106 pregnant women, which is a concern because Zika has been linked to severe birth defects.

“We are not going to see the effects of Zika today,” Rivera said. “We are going to see them in the next couple of months, in the next several years.”

Puerto Rico reported the first Zika-related microcephaly case acquired on U.S. soil in May, involving a dead fetus that a woman turned over to health authorities. Since then no microcephaly cases have been reported, but federal officials say it is only a matter of time.

A study published Friday in JAMA Pediatrics estimates that up to 270 babies in Puerto Rico could be born with microcephaly through mid-2017. The author of the study is an official with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. government last week declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico because of Zika. Federal officials have warned that up to 25 percent of Puerto Rico’s nearly 3.5 million people could become infected.

The CDC recently urged Puerto Rico fight Zika with the insecticide naled through aerial spraying, but the governor rejected that proposal and instead authorized the use of Bti, an organic larvicide.

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Puerto Rico reports 1st death from paralysis linked to Zika

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