Researcher Infected With Zika Virus During Laboratory Accident in Pittsburgh

PHOTO: A medical professional holds a needle at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Liverpool. PlayPress Association Images via AP Photo
WATCH Researcher Infected With Zika Virus During Lab Accident

A female researcher was accidentally infected with the Zika virus during a laboratory experiment at the University of Pittsburgh, marking the first reported case of someone getting the virus through a needle stick, university officials said today.

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The researcher accidentally pricked herself with a needle on May 23 and developed symptoms on June 1, according to a university statement. She returned to work five days later when she no longer had a fever, according to the statement.

“We want to remind residents that, despite this rare incident, there is still no current risk of contracting Zika from mosquitoes in Allegheny County,” Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said in a separate statement today.

Even so, the researcher plans to wear insect repellent, long sleeves and pants for three weeks, according to the University of Pittsburgh. This aligns with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for all returning travelers, even if they do not feel sick, to prevent spreading the virus through mosquitoes that have been previously found in about 30 states, including Pennsylvania.

The concern is that if one of those mosquitoes bites someone infected with the Zika virus, then it could be transmitted to another person through that mosquito's bite.

Hacker said that Allegheny County has not seen the mosquitoes so far this year that are known to carry the Zika virus, but that they are monitoring for it.

“The areas of the country where people are more concerned are in the more humid and tropical areas of the country,” Hacker told ABC News. “I think there’s a lot more attention there than the northern climes.”

Common symptoms of the virus include fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes, muscle pain and headache. However, the majority of infected people experience no symptoms at all. The virus has been linked to a serious birth defect called microcephaly, characterized by an abnormally small head and brain, with significant developmental issues.

Hacker confirmed that the laboratory researcher had not traveled to an endemic area, nor had she acquired the virus through sexual contact. The three other known Zika cases in Allegheny County were men who had contracted the virus abroad, she said.

The Zika virus is known to spread through mosquito bite, unprotected sex, from mother to child, and through blood transfusion, according to the CDC, which has not recorded any cases of Zika transmission through blood transfusion or mosquito bites in the U.S.

“We continue to believe that the risk of contracting Zika from mosquitoes is relatively low -- extremely low -- for our county,” Hacker said.