The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported the first instance of a death connected to the Zika virus in a U.S. territory. The victim was a man in his 70’s living in Puerto Rico who was infected with the Zika virus but recovered from the symptoms. He then developed an autoimmune disorder and passed away in less than 24 hours.
At first the man exhibited the symptoms commonly associated with the Zika virus, such as a rash and fever. He appeared to get better but then began to bleed internally. He was hospitalized and died rapidly.
So far, few adults have died from the Zika virus. In Puerto Rico‘s outbreak, the CDC confirmed 683 cases of the Zika infection, and the man was the first to die. In Colombia’s outbreak, the CDC reported three such deaths, and none were reported in Brazil. Yet CDC epidemologist Tyler Sharp, who is currently combating the disease in Puerto Rico, said it’s easy to misdiagnose similar cases as the relatively common dengue hemorrhagic fever. Sharp said, “It’s of high public health importance that we figure this out and, as quickly as we can, design some interventions to stop it.”
The man died in February but the CDC waited to announce his case until they could be certain his death was connected to the Zika virus. He suffered from immune thrombocytopenic purpura, similar to the Guillain-Barré syndrome some patients infected with Zika have developed. Immune thrombocytopenic purpura leads the immune system to generate antibodies which then attack the body’s own platelets.
Typically Zika doesn’t last long and only causes mild illness, but can lead to birth defects and more serious illnesses such as the disorder the man developed. The White House requested $1.9 billion from Congress to fight the virus, but some have balked at providing that amount of money.