Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Kiwi teen may have Zika virus after holiday

Jen Byrn, 18, decided to join two friends on a trip to Tonga just the day before their flight left on January 22. Photo / Facebook
Jen Byrn, 18, decided to join two friends on a trip to Tonga just the day before their flight left on January 22. Photo / Facebook

Jen Byrn walked up to her mum and started crying.

The pair had not long returned from Auckland City Hospital's accident and emergency department, where doctors had told Jen they suspected she had the Zika virus and drew her blood for testing in Australia.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that is suspected of causing serious birth defects in unborn babies. The World Health Organisation has declared the latest outbreak a public health emergency and there have been 10 confirmed cases - all contracted overseas - in New Zealand this year.

Eighteen-year-old Jen isn't pregnant, or planning to be in the near future - she's off to Victoria University this month to study psychology, education and criminology. But doctors in Auckland couldn't tell the former Epsom Girls' Grammar pupil what the long-term consequences could be if she had contracted the virus, her mum, Noel Byrn said.

The teen couldn't be contacted this morning, but Noel said her daughter feared a positive result could have far-reaching consequences for her future.

"When we came home from the hospital ... she said 'I'm feeling sad' and she started crying. She said 'what if I can't have children?'

"I said 'let's just deal with one thing at a time'. So she has been thinking about it."

Jen told the Daily Mail Australia this week she googled the virus for more information while in hospital and was initially quite alarmed.

"The media coverage scared me at first, seeing all of those poor babies in Brazil and the rapid spread across the world was quite freaky."Although her daughter was feeling much improved, results are not yet back, and Noel Byrn said they did not know when they would be.

However, the stigma of the illness - which Jen may have contracted during a week-long, last-minute holiday with her girlfriends to Tonga in the last week of January - had been apparent, her mum said.During a visit to an optometrist last week, Jen mentioned that she might have the Zika virus.

"The optometrist visibly stepped back and said 'I'm trying to get pregnant'. Jen had to say 'you can't catch it from me, you can only catch it from a mosquito'. [The optometrist] was fine once we talked to her about it."

Jen was unwell when she returned from Tonga, and had at least 40 mosquito bites on her legs. A spotty red rash, which Jen thought was sunburn, spread within a day from her neck to her toes and she also had headaches, swollen fingers and eyes so sore she could only look straight ahead.

Her mum called Healthline, who suspected Zika, as did the family doctor, who told the pair to go to A & E.Jen packed insect repellant for her trip, but left it on the mainland when she went to Fafa Island Resort, Noel Byrn said.

"My advice to people would be, just make sure you take repellant and use it [in affected countries] and if you're pregnant or expecting to get pregnant, I wouldn't go to these countries. It's just not worth the risk."The mosquitoes which transmit the virus are not usually found in New Zealand but Tonga's chief medical officer declared an outbreak of the Zika virus in that country on Friday, after five cases of the mosquito-borne illness were confirmed and another 259 suspected.

Zika is also being actively transmitted in Samoa and American Samoa, as well as large swathes of Central and South America. The UN health agency warned that the mosquito-borne disease was 'spreading explosively' in the Americas, with the region expected to see up to four million cases this year.

•This Zika outbreak began in 2014, and has affected countries in tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world, most notably Brazil.

•The mosquito species able to spread the virus are not normally found in New Zealand, and a national surveillance programme has been operating for several years at New Zealand ports and airports.

•Symptoms occur in about one in every cases and are flu-like, including a rash, red eyes, fever and joint pain. There is no specific treatment and acute symptoms typically resolve within four to seven days.

•International research is taking place to determine the link between the virus and its impact on unborn babies and until more is known the Ministry of Health is telling those who are pregnant, or planning a pregnancy, to consider delaying travel to areas where the virus is present.

•All travellers to those areas should take precautions to avoid mosquito bites, including using wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants, using insect repellent with deet, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535 and using bed nets when necessary.

- Daily Mail

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