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State health workers to get a crash course on Zika virus

State health workers will get a crash course on the mosquito-born Zika virus on Wednesday as more cases are expected to hit the United States in coming weeks and the weather gets warmer.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is scheduled to hold a Zika awareness town hall meeting for employees at its Baltimore headquarters.

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The department has also declared next week, April 24 to 30, Zika Awareness Week and will partner with local health departments that week on public education events in different communities across the state.

The awareness campaign comes amid growing concern over the Zika virus as the summer mosquito season approaches. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recently confirmed a definite link between the virus and birth defects.

Almost 350 cases of Zika have been confirmed in the United States, including eight in Maryland.

Zika is transmitted primarily through the bite of the aedes aegypti mosquito and health officials believe preventing bites is the best defense.The CDC has also said people who have traveled to countries where the virus is actively transmitted, including the Caribbean and Central American and South American countries, should abstain from unprotected sexual activity. The CDC has also urged pregnant women to avoid mosquito bites and travel to countries in South and Central America with active spread of Zika.

"The Zika virus – though a virus whose symptoms tend to be mild and whose infections generally pass from a person in about seven days – remains a serious public health concern because it causes birth defects and can be sexually transmitted," Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Van T. Mitchell said in a statement. "We want to make sure the general public remains well-informed on steps to take to minimize chances of infection, and that starts with our employees."

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