First Travel-Related Zika Case in Washington State a Reminder for Spokane County Travelers to Think Prevention

Spokane Regional Health District outlines its role in prevention, steps to stay safe

For more information, contact Kim Papich, SRHD public information officer (509) 24-1539 or

SPOKANE, Wash. – Feb. 24, 2016 - With CDC confirmation of Zika virus in Mason County, Washington, where an affected traveler recently returned from the South Pacific, Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) officials reiterate Washington State Department of Health’s (DOH) guidance for heightened awareness among travelers to specified areas.

The mosquito-borne virus is sometimes found in travelers returning from affected areas and is of greatest risk to pregnant women. To date, there have been 82 travel-associated Zika virus cases reported nationally. The mosquito (Aedes species) known to transmit the virus is not found in northern states, nor are there any confirmed cases of locally acquired mosquito-borne cases in the U.S.

“Zika virus is not a health threat for people in Spokane County, but it is a reminder that anyone traveling to a different part of the world should be mindful of the health issues present in that region,” said Dr. Joel McCullough, SRHD interim health officer. “This is especially relevant as we know that some regions where Zika virus is currently circulating are popular destinations for Spokane travelers during spring break.”

SRHD 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. If they must travel to an affected area, pregnant women are encouraged to take mosquito bite prevention very seriously.

Individuals returning to Spokane County from Zika-affected areas who are pregnant or having symptoms of Zika illness should contact their health care provider.

Nearly 80 percent of people infected with the virus will have no symptoms. Most others typically have mild symptoms, such as fever, joint soreness, rash or red eyes. The risk factors and frequency for adverse health effects are still being studied, but to date, severe outcomes including microcephaly (abnormally small heads) in infants, miscarriage and Guillain-Barre syndrome only occurred in less than 1 percent of cases. There are no vaccines or treatment for Zika virus.

Zika virus has been found for years in parts of Asia and Africa. It then migrated into the Western Hemisphere in May 2015, and the virus has now spread throughout tropical areas of Central and South America. The list of Zika-affected areas also includes many countries in the Caribbean. 

SRHD officials recommend travelers further protect themselves against mosquito bites by:

  • Applying EPA-registered insect repellants to skin following label instructions for all-day protection.
  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants and closed shoes or boots instead of sandals. 
  • Using bed nets in remote locations lacking window screens and/or air conditioning. These should reach the floor or be tucked under the mattress.
  • Avoiding perfumes, colognes and products with fragrances that might attract mosquitoes.
  • Using clothing, shoes, bed nets and camping gear that contain permethrin.  Permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills mosquitoes and other pests and retains this effect after repeated washing. Some clothing is available pretreated with permethrin; Permethrin should not be used directly on skin.

Confirmation of Washington’s first Zika case does not change the scope of work SRHD officials were already doing regionally specific to the virus. Staff are responsible for disseminating information about the virus, including education for health care professionals on screening and prevention, with an emphasis on obstetrics providers, as well as assisting in the collection and submission of any needed testing.

The health district is also working with its regional health care coalition and partners from blood banks and the medical community to assess and maintain blood and platelet resources, as national recommendations ask for blood donors who have traveled to affected areas to defer or postpone their donations.

While public health and medical professionals are very familiar with many mosquito-borne diseases, there is still much that is being actively studied about Zika virus disease, including its transmission through sex, blood and other avenues. For updates and other resources specific to Zika visit SRHD’s site, DOH’s site or CDC’s site. Spokane Regional Health District’s web site also offers comprehensive, updated information about Spokane Regional Health District and its triumphs in making Spokane a safer and healthier community. Become a fan of SRHD on Facebook to receive local safety and wellness tips. You can also follow us on Twitter @spokanehealth.