A new health report from the Pentagon revealed that at least 11 U.S. military personnel have been infected with the Zika virus, along with four dependents (spouses or children) of military members and two military retirees.
Four of the infected people are women, although none of them are pregnant, according to USA Today’s citation of Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch deputy chief Dr. Jose Sanchez. Among Zika’s most alarming results is the chance of children developing microcephaly when pregnant women contract the disease.
“Troops suffering from the Zika were four soldiers, three Airmen, a Marine and three members of the Coast Guard, according to Sanchez. The first confirmed case was diagnosed in late January,” according to USA Today’s summary of the report.
15 of the infected individuals had traveled to South America or the Caribbean, including one who visited Brazil, where the Summer Olympics have been threatened by a Zika outbreak.
It is noted that military personnel run an exceptionally high risk of mosquito bites, since they are often outdoors for long periods of time. The Pentagon has been taking precautions against Zika-carrying mosquitoes, including enhanced education about mosquito-borne illnesses for service members and their families, distributing mosquito repellent, warning against unprotected sex (a less common method of Zika transmission), and taking steps to control the mosquito population near military bases.
The threat of sexual transmission is significant enough for the military to advise its personnel to consider abstaining from sex and pregnancy for eight weeks after traveling to a Zika-affected area.
USA Today notes the number of infected military personnel could be much higher than reported since most people who contract Zika don’t display any symptoms.
Stars and Stripes reported a few weeks ago on a Pentagon memo that said mosquitoes capable of carrying the virus can be found at 190 U.S. military installations spread across 27 states and three territories.
“The area the Defense Department determined could be impacted stretches from west Texas east to Florida and as far north as New York, according to the memo. It also includes Puerto Rico and Guam,” Stars and Stripes reported.