Quebec public health officials are seeking to downplay fears of an outbreak of the Zika virus in the province.

The chances of contracting the virus in Quebec are "practically zero," Dr. Horacio Arruda, director of Quebec Public Health, said in a news release Friday.

But Arruda also warned that Quebecers who visit Central and South America should take precautions, especially women who are pregnant or thinking about having children. 

The one reported case of the virus in Quebec was contracted while the patient was outside of the country.

Arruda said the woman was infected while travelling in the Carribean in early January. She was not pregnant, but showed symptoms and is fine now.

Quebec's climate makes it unlikely the mosquito-born virus would be able to survive here, according to Arruda.

Horacio Arruda

Dr. Horacio Arruda, director of Quebec Public Health, says "there is no virus in Quebec at all." (CBC)

"There is no virus in Quebec at all," he told Radio-Canada. "The vector, which is the mosquito, that will transmit the disease from one person to another person, is not present in Quebec."

The virus causes only mild symptoms in most people, but is suspected to cause birth defects such as microcephaly, a rare birth defect that sees babies born with unusually small heads.

Given the potential risk to pregnant women, Arruda suggested they avoid traveling to high-risk areas, or at least to consult a health professional before leaving.

"If she must go there, she must protect herself against mosquito bites by wearing long white clothes and make sure her skin is not exposed to mosquitoes," he said. "She can use some mosquito repellents." 

Those who do travel, and do contract the virus, are unlikely to transmit it to other people once back in Quebec, Arruda added. It requires climatic conditions that can support the virus-carrying mosquitoes.   

"If you go travelling over there, [and] you come back, you will not transmit the disease to another person," he said. 

Héma-Québec will follow Canadian Blood Services in refusing blood donations from countries where the virus is present.

The two bodies are collaborating in establishing guidelines for who will be restricted from donating and for how long.

"We'll most likely announce the criteria in the coming days," said Laurent Paul Ménard, a spokesperson for Héma-Québec.

Ménard added that the guidelines will be uniform across the country.

with files from Radio-Canada's Davide Gentile