Zika virus poses only ‘very low’ threat to Canada: chief public health officer

The mosquito-borne Zika virus "does not present a significant public health risk to Canada," the country's chief public health officer said Friday.

OTTAWA — The mosquito-borne Zika virus “does not present a significant public health risk to Canada,” the country’s chief public health officer said Friday.

Dr. Gregory Taylor said there have been four recent cases in Canada — two in British Columbia, one in Alberta and a newly disclosed case in Quebec, all of them involving people who recently travelled to affected areas.

Taylor told a news conference his agency is monitoring the situation as the virus spreads, particularly in South America.

“The mosquitoes known to transmit the virus are not established in Canada and are not well suited to our climate,” he said. “For this reason the risk of Zika virus infection in Canada is considered very low.”

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s director of public health, said earlier Friday that the case in that province surfaced after a woman returned from the Caribbean with flu-like symptoms in early January.

The woman consulted a doctor upon returning home and is now fully recovered, Arruda said.

Public health officials say the risk for Canadians is low and limited to those who travel or live in regions where the virus is circulating.

While mosquitoes are the main source of transmission, but there are other possibilities, Taylor said.

“There is some evidence that mother-to-child transmission may occur, there have been a few reports identifying the possibility of transmission of Zika virus through transfusion of infected blood or possible sexual transmission of Zika virus. More research is still needed on transmission and effects of this disease.”

There is no vaccine, although Canadian researchers are among those seeking one.

In Brazil, the Zika virus has been linked to cases of microcephaly, or abnormally small heads in newborns.

Taylor says women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, consult a health-care practitioner before travelling to a region where the virus is circulating.

The illness itself is generally mild, Taylor said.

“Only about 20 to 25 per cent of people infected with the virus develop symptoms, which can include fever, headache, conjunctivitis or pink eye, rash and joint or muscle pain.

“Severe illness is uncommon.”

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