January 28, 2016 9:07 pm
Updated: January 28, 2016 10:02 pm

‘The risk in Alberta is zero’: Alberta Health chief medical officer on Zika virus

WATCH ABOVE: There are now three confirmed cases of Zika virus in Canada, two in Alberta, but health officials insist it won’t spread to Canada. Canadian Blood Services is however announcing a ban on blood from those who have travelled to areas where the virus is widespread. Sarah Offin explains.

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EDMONTON- The acting chief medical officer of health at Alberta Health addressed reporters in Edmonton Thursday afternoon to answer questions about the growing concern over the Zika virus and whether it presents any risk in Alberta.

“The risk in Canada is zero right now so the risk in Alberta is zero,” Martin Lavoie told reporters. “We don’t have the mosquitoes, we don’t have the virus.”

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The World Health Organization has expressed concern over the Zika virus lately as it estimates there could be three to four million cases diagnosed in the Americas over the next year.

READ MORE: WHO: Zika virus ‘spreading explosively’

Zika is suspected of being linked to neurological problems and birth defects like abnormally small heads.

As Global News first reported on Jan. 20, two cases of the Zika virus have been confirmed in Alberta. On Thursday, Lavoie said one of those patients was diagnosed in 2013 after having travelled in southeast Asia. Alberta Health would not provide a gender or age for that patient. The other case involved a woman who returned to Alberta in late 2015 after travelling in Colombia. She wasn’t pregnant.

“I wouldn’t say Zika has arrived in Alberta,” said Lavoie. “These two cases are travel-related so they acquired the infection while they were travelling abroad where Zika was actually circulating.”

Lavoie told reporters the Zika virus is carried by a particular mosquito that does not currently exist in Canada. He said that type of mosquito is found in most of the Americas, including the United States, though.

He said the Zika virus is actually a mild infection and in most cases, those infected will not have any identifiable symptoms. He said one in five will have mild symptoms like fever, red eyes, a rash, headache, and muscle ache or joint pain. According to Lavoie, the virus is usually gone in less than a week.

While Lavoie said he is not concerned about anyone contracting the Zika virus in Alberta, people, especially women, should take precautions when travelling abroad.

“Out of precaution, we advise pregnant women, or women who are planning to be pregnant in the near future, to if at all possible postpone travel to one of those countries where Zika is occurring right now,” he said. “Obviously, that’s the best protection; don’t expose yourself during pregnancy.”

READ MORE: Trip booked to Zika-affected region? Here’s how Canadian airlines will help you

For people who are travelling to areas where the Zika virus currently exists, Lavoie said there are some simple precautions to take to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes:

-Use insect repellent
-Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts
-Try to wear light colours
-Close doors and screens at night and keep use air conditioning to stay cool

Lavoie told reporters there is no vaccine for the Zika virus.

When asked about the possiblity of human-to-human transmission, Lavoie said the virus transmits almost exlcusively by mosquito. However, he said there was a theoretical risk if someone were to donate blood while infected with the virus. He said casual contact with someone who has the virus wouldn’t spread it.

As a precaution, Canadian Blood Services has announced it is not accepting blood donations from people returning from countries afflicted by the virus.

Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott has said Canadians are being urged to avoid travel to countries affected by the virus. The minister has asked Canadians to regularly check the Public Health Agency of Canada website for travel precautions.

-with files from The Canadian Press

WATCH: Zika risk and pregnant women

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