First Zika virus case reported in King County; no risk to public health

The illness was identified in a man in his 40s who had recently been in Colombia, a country that has Zika virus spreading actively and is on the list of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) travel advisories, according to Public Health.

King County’s first case of Zika infection was reported Wednesday by Public Health – Seattle & King County, according to a Public Health news release.

The illness was identified in a man in his 40s who had recently been in Colombia, a country that has Zika virus spreading actively and is on the list of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) travel advisories, according to the release.

This Zika case does not pose a risk to the public in Washington state, according to Public Health. Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of infected Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, or less commonly, through sexual contact with a recently infected man. The types of mosquitoes that transmit Zika are not found in the Pacific Northwest so local health officials do not expect Zika virus to spread, according to the release.

“Zika is a serious risk for pregnant women who travel to areas where outbreaks are occurring and who have sex partners who have traveled to these areas,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County in the news release. “Women who are pregnant should avoid travel to Zika-affected areas if possible and both women and men who do travel to areas where the Zika virus is spreading should take precautions to prevent infection from this virus.”

Communicable disease experts at Public Health – Seattle & King County have been working with local health care providers to identify and evaluate potential Zika infections. To date, more than 180 patients in King County have had blood samples sent to the CDC for Zika testing. The test reported Wednesday is the first to confirm Zika infection in a King County resident.

Valley Medical Center has a screening process in place for at all its primary care clinics and OB related practices, according to Dr. Todd Bouchard, associate medical director of Primary and Urgent Care.

“Valley screens for all women who have traveled to at risk countries outside the U.S. over the past nine months,” said Bouchard. “And while Valley currently screens men who have traveled outside the U.S. to high-risk countries over the past three weeks, there is discussion among medical professionals that that time frame may change due to the sexually transmitted nature of the virus.”

If a patient has recently traveled to any of the over 40 known high-risk countries, healthcare providers ask the patient a series of detailed questions provided by the Washington Department of Health to assess their potential exposure and determine if further testing is needed. Valley has also prepared a travel advisory for their patients to be aware of the risk before they travel to countries that have known cases of the Zika virus.

This is also the third case of Zika found in Washington state. All three cases were found in people who became infected while in countries that have current Zika outbreaks. With ongoing widespread outbreaks in the Americas and the Caribbean including Puerto Rico, the number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to King County and elsewhere in the mainland United States will likely increase.

Symptoms of Zika are generally mild and include fever, rash, joint pain and redness of the eyes. Symptoms typically begin two to seven days after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Many people who get Zika have no symptoms at all. There is no vaccine to prevent infection or medicine to treat Zika.

According to Public Health, Zika infection is a very serious concern for pregnant women because of its link with a birth defect in newborns called microcephaly, an abnormally small brain and skull, and other poor pregnancy outcomes. Zika is also linked to Guillan-Barré Syndrome, a problem marked by muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.

The CDC has determined that Zika can also be spread by an infected man to his sexual partners, even when he does not have symptoms or know that he is infected. It’s important for men who have traveled to an area with Zika to follow CDC’s guidance to prevent sexual transmission of Zika, even if they don’t feel sick.

Local health departments will continue to play their critical role in Zika response, according to the release. Public Health – Seattle & King County will continue to provide the foundational public health work of communicable disease response:

• tracking and monitoring for any additional cases;

• updating the public and healthcare providers with the latest information; and

• coordinating with the clinical healthcare system.