The Kentucky Department for Public Health has confirmed the state’s first case of Zika virus.
A Louisville-area man who had recently been traveling in a Central American country tested positive for the virus, according to a news release from DPH. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the test results March 9.
The agency said the man, who is back in Louisville, is doing well and expected to fully recover from the illness.
Zika, an infectious viral illness, is primarily spread through the bite of a mosquito that carries the virus. Zika is not known to be circulating in the mosquito population in Kentucky – or any other part of the United States.
Ruth Carrico, a global health and infection control expert with University of Louisville Physicians, said it was only a matter of time before the virus made its way to Kentucky.
“We know that with international travelers who are spending time in areas where we have documented Zika, that there is a real likelihood that someone is going to be bitten and then subsequently infected,” she said.
The virus, transmitted through mosquito bites, is linked to the birth defect microcephaly, a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development and abnormal smallness of the head.
The virus has also been associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause paralysis in individuals who have been infected.
Carrico said Kentuckians shouldn’t worry about becoming infected with Zika virus as they would with influenza or a cold virus. She said the virus is found in specific body fluids, including blood.
“We know that it lives for a period of time in urine,” Carrico said. “We know it lives for a period of time in semen, so what are the opportunities then for contact with those body fluids and that’s what we want to minimize.”
Last month, Indiana health officials confirmed the state’s first case of Zika, found in a person who had recently returned from a trip to Haiti.
Carrico said people should take precautions if they may be exposed to mosquitoes carrying the virus. She suggested warding off mosquitoes by using DEET for skin and Permethrin for clothing. She also said people should get rid of areas of standing water, where mosquitoes can thrive.
DPH says it is working closely with the CDC to provide guidance and education to health professionals and the general public regarding the Zika virus.