Howard County health officials prepare for Zika virus

Howard County health officials prepare for Zika by pushing education and awareness.

Howard County health officials are preparing for potential dangers posed by Zika, a mosquito-borne virus that prompted the World Health Organization to declare an international public health emergency last month.

Four cases of the virus have been confirmed in Maryland, up from three last week, according to Maryland health officials.

Howard County General Hospital is working closely with Johns Hopkins Medicine to prepare for potential cases, said hospital spokeswoman Sharon Sopp.

Johns Hopkins Medicine is organizing information sessions for employees across six hospitals in its system.

"These presentations and the question-and-answer sessions that follow have proven to be informative and helpful for non-clinical staff members, many with the same questions and concerns as our patients and guests," said Jania Matthews, assistant director of public relations and corporate communications at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Howard County's health department is carefully monitoring the spread of the disease. The department is providing area doctors, including obstetricians, up-to-date information about the virus, including questions to ask patients who may be exposed to Zika and common symptoms, said spokeswoman Lisa de Hernandez.

The department's staff consults with local providers daily to provide guidance on how to conduct and manage testing to identify potential cases.

A Johns Hopkins stem cell study published Friday established a link between the birth defect microcephaly and the Zika virus, allowing researchers to rule out other possible causes of the uptick in babies born with the often deadly birth defect.

Zika can spread from a pregnant woman to her fetus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend pregnant women postpone travel to areas prone to Zika transmission, including Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. Women trying to become pregnant should consult their healthcare provides before traveling, according to the CDC's website.

"As this issue continues to evolve, we will do our best to keep our community up to date and informed," Matthews said.

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