Alaska’s first Zika case is in Sitka

The Zika virus, magnified. (Photo by Cynthia Goldsmith/Centers for Disease Control)
The Zika virus, magnified. (Photo by Cynthia Goldsmith/Centers for Disease Control)

The state department of Health and Social Services on Friday announced the first known case of the Zika virus in the state.

It belonging to a patient treated at the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium’s Mt. Edgcumbe Hospital in Sitka.

The patient, a man from the Midwest, had traveled in Central America. He then came to Alaska, where he began to experience unusual symptoms, said Katy Pugh, a registered nurse and an infection prevention specialist at the hospital.

“He came to our emergency room here at Mount Edgecumbe Hospital for evaluation. He had a rash, a fever and conjunctivitis, his eyes were red, irritated and red,” she said.

The patient was evaluated and the Zika diagnosis was confirmed by a lab test. The man did not require hospitalization.

“He was given educational information about the Zika virus, and then he was released from our care,” she said.

The patient has returned home to the Midwest, and SEARHC officials said there is no risk the virus will spread to the public. The patient was exposed to a very limited portion of the hospital, which has been thoroughly disinfected.

Pugh said the hospital is prepared, though, if this were to happen again.

“If we had another patient with Zika who came to the hospital, we would follow the same procedures. The community is safe, the appropriate procedures were followed, and there should be no cause for alarm in the area,” she said.

Zika can only be spread through intravenous drug use or sexual activity. Though the virus is also spread by mosquitoes, Alaska mosquitoes cannot transmit the virus.

Zika is linked to birth defects and brain damage in newborns, as well as temporary paralysis – known as Guillain-Barré syndrome – in adults. There is no CDC recommended treatment for the Zika virus, just rest, water, and nourishment. Symptoms can be mild and usually only require rest and care.

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