Utah health officials said Friday that the death of an elderly patient at the end of June was related to the Zika virus, the first Zika-related death in the continental United States. The unidentified resident of Salt Lake County had traveled to an undisclosed destination where the virus is circulating.
The cause of death has not been determined. “This person had an underlying medical condition and tested positive for Zika, so we know it contributed to [the death], but we don’t know that it was the sole cause [of death],” said Dr. Dagmar Vitek, medical director for the Salt Lake County Department of Health. “It may not be possible to determine how the Zika infection contributed to the death,” a news release said.
Laboratory confirmation of the virus did not come back until after the individual had died, according to Gary Edwards, executive director of the Salt Lake County Department of Health, who said the department learned of the Zika-related death after a review of the death certificate.
Citing health privacy laws, health officials said that no additional information about the patient will be released. Vitek called the situation tragic and offered condolences to the family of the deceased individual.
To date, there have been no locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus in the United States, although there are 1,132 travel-related cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The virus, which can cause devastating birth defects in children born to women who were infected during pregnancy, is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquito, neither of which are found in Utah. The virus can also cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. Symptoms of the condition, which can also be caused by other viruses, can include temporary paralysis.
A 70-year-old Puerto Rican man died from complications of the virus in February. There are no other known Zika-related deaths in the U.S.