First case of Zika virus confirmed in Washington state

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A Mason County man in his 20s who traveled to the South Pacific is the first person in Washington state to test positive for the Zika virus, the Washington State Department of Health confirmed Monday.

“Because many people travel to and from places where Zika is spreading, we’ve been expecting to have imported cases of Zika virus disease,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, state epidemiologist for communicable diseases for the Department of Health. “While the Zika virus is of greatest risk to pregnant women, it is understandably concerning to many of us. The good news is this virus spreads through the bite of a type of mosquito we don’t have in Washington state, so it is very unlikely that this virus would spread widely here.”

Zika virus is almost always a very mild illness, the department said. About 80 percent of those infected never show symptoms of the disease, while about 1 in 5 people will have only mild symptoms, including fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes that last a few days to a week.

However, there have been increased reports of cases of newborn microcephaly and other negative, pregnancy-related health outcomes possibly associated with Zika virus infections during pregnancy, the department said.

Microcephaly is a condition where the head is smaller than normal and may lead to a child experiencing a variety of other health challenges, including physical and speech functions, seizure, hyperactivity, coordination problems and other brain/neurological disorders

There is no vaccine to prevent Zika virus disease and no specific medical treatment for people who are infected, the department said.

Heath officials urge anyone considering traveling to countries where the virus is circulating to be aware of the need to protect themselves and others from mosquito bites. Pregnant women are encouraged to delay their travel, if possible, and to take mosquito bite prevention very seriously if they must travel to an area where mosquito-borne diseases are circulating.

Travelers at Sea-Tac International Airport were split Monday night whether they needed to be concerned about this latest disease.

“Now that it’s shown up in Washington, I think it’s really scary,” Nancy Chapin said. “I just hope if they find out what’s going on, we actually get the truth.”

“We’ve seen this before with Ebola and other viruses originating outside North America, when you start to get a few cases in the U.S.,” said Paul Nelson. “You just need to put a plan together to monitor for symptoms.”

Dr. Jeff Duchin, an epidemiologist with Public Health Seattle-King County, said people shouldn’t be alarmed about coming into contact with someone who was exposed to Zika.

“These travelers who return don’t present any risk to the public or their communities, it’s not going to be spreading person to person,” he said.

The Washington State Department of Health is tracking the virus and has updated information on its Zika virus webpage.