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11:53 PM Sat, July 21st

Vigilance required to keep virus from spreading

In this Jan. 18, 2016, file photo, a female Aedes aegypti mosquito, known to be a carrier of the Zika virus, acquires a blood meal on the arm of a researcher at the Biomedical Sciences Institute of Sao Paulo University in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Health officials said Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016 that two babies have been born with Zika-related defects in California. The California Department of Public Health said the infants were born to infected mothers who spent time in countries where the virus is circulating.

AP Photo/Andre Penner, File

In this Jan. 18, 2016, file photo, a female Aedes aegypti mosquito, known to be a carrier of the Zika virus, acquires a blood meal on the arm of a researcher at the Biomedical Sciences Institute of Sao Paulo University in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Health officials said Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016 that two babies have been born with Zika-related defects in California. The California Department of Public Health said the infants were born to infected mothers who spent time in countries where the virus is circulating.

Arizona has officially identified 14 travel-related cases of the Zika virus, none of them so far in Yavapai County.

“That’s not to say we won’t,” said David McAtee, Yavapai County Community Health Services public information officer.

The latest case in Arizona involves a Yuma resident and is travel-related.

With the latest reports from Miami where 15 incidents of local infection has occurred, and health officials have initiated spraying of the area to kill the mosquitoes that carry the virus, people are starting to fear a bigger spread of the incurable virus that is most dangerous to pregnant women and those who wish to become pregnant. The Zika virus is known to cause serious birth defects.

In the last year, the virus spread primarily through mosquito bites, has become an epidemic in Latin America and Caribbean countries. Travelers to those countries have been advised to be aware of mosquitoes, and protect themselves against bites, and to monitor any symptoms of the virus.

In healthy adults, the Zika virus will likely cause them only mild discomfort, possibly flu-like symptoms, some 20 percent will suffer no symptoms. Still, officials said prevention is encouraged so that the virus does not become an epidemic, as it can be sexually-transmitted by men and women and there is no vaccination or medical cure.

McAtee cited national health reports that state doctors must order blood tests for patients who come to them with two or more of these symptoms: acute onset of fever, a flat blemish rash with elevated lesions, joint pain or conjunctivitis. Doctors, too, are now advised to question their patients about their out-of-country travel, and now whether they may have traveled to Florida, or if a partner has recently traveled to a region known to have the virus. Men are known to carry the virus for up to six weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just awarded $400,000 to Arizona to establish, enhance, and maintain information-gathering systems to rapidly detect microcephaly–a serious birth defect of the brain–and other adverse outcomes caused by Zika virus infection, according to an agency news release.

The funding will also help Arizona ensure affected infants and their families are referred to appropriate health and social services.

Zika infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly and other severe defects in the developing fetus.

“It is critical to identify infants affected by Zika so we can support them and their families,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “This CDC funding provides real-time data about the Zika epidemic as it unfolds in the United States and territories and will help those most devastated by this virus.”

So if you are not a pregnant woman, but rather you are an outdoorsman, or like to putter in the garden, how do you avoid coming into contact with mosquitoes that might carry the virus?

Wear appropriate clothing – loose, long sleeves and light-weight paints, socks and boots – and spray with DEET-ingredient insect repellant. If you travel out of the country, carry mosquito netting and plenty of repellant.

Prevention efforts also need to include limiting potential mosquito breeding grounds, essentially places with stagnant water. Clean out bird feeders, remove old tires, keep lids on garbage cans and monitor any other containers where water can collect because they can be a mosquito haven.

Though all of Arizona’s cases have so far been imported, McAtee said health officials want to be prepared and push prevention before there is a local outbreak such as what occurred in Miami.

“We’re off to the races, at that point,” McAtee said.