Photograph by Joe Mac Hudspeth, Jr. · www.southernfocus.com
Delta Sportsman: ZIKA Update
We are all now well aware of the Zika virus transmitted by mosquitos. The main thing we hear and read almost daily is that the virus can cause severe birth defects and this is certainly cause for concern and avoidance. There are some facts you should know so you will be better informed about its transmission to humans. I will summarize some pertinent facts from an article written by Dr. Jerome Goddard, a PhD and Professor of Medical and Veterinary Entomology, Mississippi State University. His article appeared in the June 2016 issue of the Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association.
Dr. Godard emphasized not all mosquitos are the same, nor do all of them transmit all mosquito borne illnesses. There are 60 species of mosquitos in our state, many of which are harmless to humans. Some feed only on frogs, to make that point. The tiny insects are generally grouped into categories based upon their breeding sites. For instance, the Anopheles mosquito responsible for transmitting malaria during the construction of the Panama Canal breed in swamps and lakes. Ones carrying West Nile virus breed in water with high organic content such as septic and storm drains.
Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, the two vectors that spread Zika, breed around buildings, porches, and patios in just about any container holding water for more than 5-7 days; cans, flower pots, bird baths, etc. These two skeeter cousins are very similar, basically displaying white marking on their backs. The former bites in early mornings and late afternoons, the latter bites in the daytime. Both have been previously identified in Mississippi, but to date, there has been no transmission of Zika by them in our state.
According to the Mississippi State Department of Health A. aegypti has not been detected in our state since the early 1990s. The only active Zika area in the U.S. currently is in a portion of Miami Beach, FL, but it is being actively transmitted in 50 countries including Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean islands. Almost all cases in this country have been contracted by travelers to those areas and then brought back to the U.S. Their press release dated 9/26/16 indicated a total of 23 cases of Zika in Mississippi. The two most recently diagnosed were travelers to the island of Grenada.
So what symptoms do victims of Zika experience? This infection is relatively mild or completely asymptomatic in over 80% of people. Some report symptoms similar to other viral illnesses; fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, aching, joint pain, red eyes, or rash. The illness may last a few days to a week. There is no specific treatment and most victims recover without further problems.
So one might ask, why is this mild viral illness causing such concern? It’s because of the devastating birth defects it causes in developing fetuses including skull deformities, brain damage, deafness, blindness, and abnormal growth, to name a few. And there is another glitch. This virus, unlike other mosquito-borne viruses, is transmitted sexually among humans. Even those who have the virus and are asymptomatic can transmit it to their partner(s). So this virus does not need the mosquito vector to spread it here or elsewhere in its absence. The health department strongly recommends pregnant women avoid traveling to the above mentioned countries, and that those travelers returning from them take special precautions to prevent possible sexual transmission to their loved ones. For more in depth information on this go to http://www.HealthyMS.com/zika.
Dr. Goddard cautions that there is no one best way to control mosquito populations. He states the standard truck-mounted spray machine works ok for the West Nile carrying mosquito, but not so well for the Zika skeeters. Control of Zika is primarily for home and property owners to be diligent in checking for and emptying containers of standing water around their homes. There are “larvacides” and “adulticide” chemicals available but the best method is to abolish the breeding areas.
As with any mosquito or other insect avoidance measures, it is best to wear loose, light-colored long sleeves and pants when outside in areas active with the critters. Use a good repellant such as DEET. Citronella candles strategically placed on your porches and patios are helpful.
Even though we have no evidence of Zika being spread in our state by mosquitos at this time, we all should get in the habit of recognizing and destroying potential mosquito breeding habitats. Don’t forget the already established illnesses such as West Nile. Zika is just the new kid on the block!