Puerto Rico reports 1st US Zika-related death

Posted at 4:12 PM, Apr 29, 2016

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico announced Friday that it has recorded the first Zika-related U.S. death amid an outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus in the U.S. territory.

Health Secretary Ana Rius said the victim is a 70-year-old man from the San Juan metro area who died in late February. The U.S. territory is battling more than 700 Zika cases and seeks federal funds to help prevent an epidemic at a time of worsening economic crisis.

Officials said the unidentified man recovered from initial Zika symptoms, but then developed a condition in which antibodies that formed in reaction to the Zika infection started attacking blood platelet cells. He died after suffering internal bleeding.

Rius said the man died less than 24 hours after seeking help at a health center. She said three other cases of the condition known as severe thrombocytopenia have been reported in Puerto Rico, and that those patients recovered successfully.

Three similar Zika-related deaths also have been recorded in the South American country of Colombia, said Tyler Sharp of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Zika-related deaths in adults are considered extremely rare. The virus causes only a mild and brief illness, at worst, in most people. But infections in pregnant women have been linked to a brain defect and fetal deaths, and have become an international public health concern.

There have been 426 cases of Zika reported in the 50 U.S. states — all linked to travel to outbreak areas. But officials think it's likely some small clusters of Zika infections will occur in the U.S. when mosquito numbers boom.

The virus is spreading quickly across Puerto Rico, where 89 pregnant women are infected with Zika. Rius said all 14 pregnant women who are infected and have given birth have healthy babies.

Nineteen people have been hospitalized in Puerto Rico and at least four are believed to have developed a temporary paralysis condition known as Guillain-Barre because of Zika.

President Barack Obama has requested $1.9 billion in emergency money to fight Zika virus, but Congress has not acted.

Other Caribbean also are struggling with a Zika outbreak. The government of the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe announced a Zika epidemic on Friday with 2,100 suspected cases.