Zika outbreak: ‘The chance of this spreading in Washington is incredibly low’

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SEATTLE  --  The Zika virus is now a global public health threat.

The World Health Organization on Monday declared a global public health emergency, give the outbreak a tag that it's only previously applied to Ebola, Polio and H1N1.

“Anybody can get this at any age. And any sex can get this,” Dr. Scott Lindquist of the Washington State Health Department said on Monday.

Lindquist said the spread of the virus is causing many moms to worry because it has been linked to thousands of cases of microcephaly in newborns in Brazil. Microcephaly is a rare neurological condition where babies are born with small heads.

There's little known about the virus and whether or not it’s causing these rare birth defects, but Lindquist said there's no reason to panic.

“The chances of this spreading in Washington is incredibly low," he said. "We don't have the species of mosquito that transmits the virus."

Zika is not far from the state`s border, however. Three Oregonians are among 31 cases of Zika virus reported in the United States, according to The Oregonian,  but the Centers for Disease Control says all of those patients got the virus while traveling.

“We will have travelers from Washington state that come back," Lindquist said. "If there’s a concern that they have any of the symptoms that are consistent with Zika virus, they should see their doctor. We have sent less than a handful of samples to the CDC for testing.”

Lindquist says Zika virus is a mild illness transmitted through a mosquito bite.  Symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and headaches.  The virus usually clears the bloodstream after seven days.

“There’s some concern that they are finding this in body fluids, but there's no clear evidence that this is sexually transmitted,” he said.

There's no vaccine or anti-viral to treat or prevent the virus - the only real prevention is avoiding mosquitoes.  And because Brazil will host a lot of international travelers for the Olympics, local officials there are working on mosquito eradication programs.

“There's too little that’s known about this, but I think the one concrete thing we should all focus on is this is not the only virus transmitted through mosquitoes," Lindquist said. "We should really focus our efforts on mosquito prevention."

If you are traveling and you feel unsure, the best thing to do is talk to your doctor.

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