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Alaska's first Zika case confirmed in Sitka

A Midwestern man visiting Sitka tested positive for the Zika virus this month, the first confirmed case of the illness in Alaska.

According to a press release from the Alaska Division of Public Health, the man contracted the virus while visiting Central America. The patient, who was not identified, was visiting Sitka for work and is not a resident.

The man was evaluated at Sitka's Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital after developing symptoms that included a full-body rash, fever and red eyes. A blood specimen collected July 18 later confirmed the patient was infected with Zika.

The patient was hospitalized and is now back home in the Midwest, according to the release.

In a statement, hospital spokeswoman Stacy Smith wrote the "very limited area" of the hospital in which the patient was treated was "thoroughly disinfected" and infection control precautions were taken to secure patient and staff safety.

"There is no chance the virus can affect the Sitka community," she wrote.

Dr. Joe McLaughlin, state epidemiologist, said in a phone interview Friday the man had traveled in Nicaragua before visiting Alaska. Citing patient confidentiality, he declined to say where in the U.S. the man is from.

McLaughlin said almost all of the hundreds of confirmed Zika cases in the United States are travel-related. He said the Sitka case is not cause for concern in terms of spreading the virus through Alaska mosquitoes.

However, McLaughlin said those traveling to countries where the virus is widespread should take preventative measures in avoiding mosquitoes and possible sexual transmission of the virus.

There is no vaccine for the virus.

Zika generally produces mild symptoms lasting up to a week. However, the virus can cause serious birth defects including microcephaly, a condition characterized by small head and brain.

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