Nova Scotia confirms first Zika virus case

Nova Scotia has its first confirmed case of the Zika virus, prompting public health officers to urge residents to take precautions when travelling abroad.

Woman caught the virus abroad, but has now recovered, Health Department says

The Aedes aegypti mosquito spreads the Zika virus, as well as dengue fever and chikungunya. (James Gathany/CDC/Associated Press)

Nova Scotia has its first confirmed case of Zika, the virus that began spreading in South America last year and is linked to serious birth defects. 

A woman who had been travelling late last year caught the virus while abroad, Frank Atherton, the deputy chief medical officer of health, told CBC's Maritime Noon on Monday.

The woman became ill, was tested and recently the results came back from the Winnipeg lab that confirmed she did have Zika, said Atherton. She didn't need hospital treatment and has since recovered. 

"The risk of Zika to Nova Scotians and Canadians is extremely low. We are not aware of any cases transmitted by mosquitos to humans that originated in Canada," Atherton said in a news release.

But for pregnant women, there could be significant risks.

Pregnant women should take travel precautions

"Pregnant women are advised not to travel to Zika-affected countries, at the present time, because we're still learning a lot about this disease. It's very hard to actually quantify the risk," said Atherton.

"Women who do travel there or have partners who travel there are advised to avoid pregnancy for two to six months after they return."

The virus mostly spreads to humans from mosquitos, and those mosquitos are unlikely to survive Nova Scotia's climate, the department said. In rare cases, it can be transmitted through sexual activity.

How to stay safe in Zika-affected countries

The department said men who have been in a Zika-affected country should use condoms for six months after returning home. Women should avoid trying to become pregnant for at least two months. 

There is growing evidence that Zika causes a serious birth defect called microcephaly — babies born with abnormally small heads. 

Atherton offered tips for avoiding the virus aboard:

  • Use insect repellent with DEET or Icaridin on exposed skin.
  • Sleep under a bed net if you're outdoors or not fully enclosed.
  • Book accommodation in places that are well screened, or completely enclosed.
  • Cover up with long-sleeve shirts, pants and shoes (not sandals).

No specific treatment or vaccine

The World Health Organization says people with Zika virus disease can have symptoms that include mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache. These symptoms normally last for two to seven days.

It's estimated about one in four people infected with Zika virus are believed to develop symptoms, federal health officials say.

There is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available.

As of May 5, the Public Health Agency of Canada reports 67 travel-related cases involving Canadians and one locally acquired case through sexual transmission in Canada.

With files from Maritime Noon