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 was a 70-year-old man from the San Juan area who died in late February. Puerto Rico is battling more than 700 Zika cases and seeking 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 his 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.
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 brain defects and deaths in their babies, 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 rise in the summer.
The virus is spreading quickly across Puerto Rico, where 89 pregnant women are infected with Zika. Rius said that all 14 pregnant women who are known to have been infected and have given birth delivered healthy babies.
President Obama has requested $1.9 billion in emergency money to fight the Zika virus, but Congress has not acted.
The Zika outbreak has struck elsewhere in the Caribbean. The government of the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe announced a Zika epidemic on Friday with 2,100 suspected cases.