A Virginia mother of three has been diagnosed with the first known case of the Zika virus in the state after traveling to Guatemala on a mission trip.
Longtime missionary Heather Baker, who lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia, was confirmed last week to have contracted the virus. She told News4 she knew something was wrong starting in late November, when she returned from a trip to Guatemala, her fourth such trip in the past year and a half.
"It began with just a swollen lymph node, which definitely tipped me off that something was coming, and then progressed to some body aches and a really weird rash and joint pain," Baker said.
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She initially was tested for another illness, but those results came back negative. After talking with friends in Guatemala, she decided to get tested for Zika. State Department of Health officials told her last week she has the virus.
Zika is transmitted from infected mosquitoes to people, from infected pregnant mothers to babies and possibly through sexual activity, according to ongoing research. Babies born to mothers with the virus can have microcephaly, a condition associated with small, undeveloped brains.
Although Zika is not airborne or easily spread, Baker said she's being extra cautious. She said she stopped sharing drinks or food with her children, and canceled a massage and nail salon appointments.
"We're just being very careful because there are so many unknowns," she said.
Baker advised women who are pregnant or hope to get pregnant to avoid travel to affected regions, echoing experts' advice.
"If you have a trip planned to one of these area, just postpone it," she said. "Find something to do local."
The Centers for Disease Control plans to release guidance soon on how to prevent sexual transmission of Zika.
"We have to have a healthy respect for this virus, but I don't think we have to be unduly alarmed just yet," Georgetown University infectious disease expert Paul Rope said.
Baker likely contracted Zika in Central America, but she said when she is fully recovered, she plans to return there to continue her missionary work.