U.S. Reports First Zika Virus Death in Puerto Rico

Aedes aegypti mosquitos. Mario Tama / Getty Images

Aedes aegypti mosquitos. Mario Tama / Getty Images

NBCNEWS by MAGGIE FOX.  A man infected with Zika virus in Puerto Rico has died from complications of the infection, health officials said Friday.

The man, in his 70s, died from internal bleeding caused by a rare immune reaction to the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

It’s the first death in the United States from Zika virus.

“This demonstrates that, as with Guillain Barre Syndrome cases, that there can be severe manifestations that result from Zika virus infection,” the CDC’s Tyler Sharp told NBC News.

The victim had a condition called thrombocytopenia — low platelet count that can result in bleeding. Sharp said it’s a rare but known complication of Zika and not a sign that the virus is causing worse symptoms than expected.

Zika’s spreading fast across Latin America and the Caribbean. The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico’s been hit hard, too.

Sharp, an epidemiologist at the CDC Dengue Branch in San Juan, Puerto Rico, said the man who died developed the low platelet count as a severe side-effect of infection with Zika. It’s called immune thrombocytopenic purpura.

“With immune thrombocytopenic purpura cases, our best understanding is those antibodies that normally would be directed against Zika are actually directed against platelets,” Sharp said. “It’s the immune system attacking the host.”

Platelet counts fall, the blood doesn’t clot well and a patients can develop bleeding — usually not severe, but sometimes severe enough to cause shock. It can be caused by a number of infections.

“Zika virus continuing to circulate in Puerto Rico,” Sharp said.

“If people get an illness with fever and rash, and especially if they develop any bleeding manifestations, they need to seek immediate medical care.”

Dengue and chikingunya virus, both relatives of Zika, are also circulating in Puerto Rico. Dengue infection can cause dengue hemorrhagic fever, which can be deadly, especially if not treated quickly.

The CDC and Puerto Rico health department reported the death in a regular update on Zika. Health officials said they tested more than 6,000 people for Zika infection. About 11 percent of them — 683 people — had Zika.

Of them, 65 are pregnant women. And 17 patients, or 2 percent of all, were sick enough to require hospitalization, the CDC team reported. Five had Guillan-Barre, a paralyzing syndrome that can follow many different infections and that’s now being noted as Zika infects hundreds of thousands of people in the Americas.

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