Health department monitoring Zika buzz
The weather has been uncommonly wet, and it will warm up soon. That makes conditions ripe for mosquitoes.
There was a time around here when mosquitoes were seen as a mere annoyance. Now, they’re recognized as potential carriers of disease. First we were cautioned about the West Nile virus. This year, it’s the Zika virus.
While there have been no cases of Zika yet in Southern Maryland, the Charles County Health Department, under the guidance of county health officer Dr. Diana E. Abney, is leading the charge for prevention.
Zika has been linked to birth defects, so pregnant women, or those planning to become pregnant, are warned against travel to areas with known Zika transmission, now mostly in South America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Maryland has had several confirmed cases of Zika virus infection, and so far all of those cases have been related to travel in those areas.
Thus far, no mosquitoes in Charles County have been found to be carrying the Zika virus. However, as the summer heat and humidity arrive in full force, and as more people carry the virus from recent travel or sex with an infected traveler, mosquitoes here may start picking up the virus.
Abney recently hosted Dr. Howard Haft, deputy secretary for public health with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, to update the Charles County Medical Society about the progression of the virus and its effects on pregnant women. Some of the information shared at the meeting was startling, with Haft mentioning that scientists are scratching their heads about how the virus is transmitted by mosquito and through sex, something he noted had not happened before.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that preventing mosquito bites is the best way to avoid infection by the Zika virus, though infection can also occur through sexual contact with an infected male. So using protection includes insect repellent and condoms, the health department warned.
While a Charles County outbreak is not certain to happen, Aedes mosquitoes, the type that carry the virus, do live in this region. An outbreak would likely start with people who had traveled to areas that are already seeing significant numbers of people affected by the virus.
The health department recommends these precautions to avoid the Zika virus:
Eliminate standing water in and around home to wipe out mosquito breeding grounds. Once a week, empty, scrub, cover or throw out items that hold water.
Keep mosquitoes out of homes by using screens on doors and windows and air conditioning when available.
Repair cracks or gaps in septic systems and cover open vents or plumbing pipes.
Use an EPA-registered insect repellent with DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol to prevent mosquito bites.
For other tips on mosquito-proofing surroundings, visit the Maryland Department of Agriculture website at http:// mda.maryland.gov/plants-pests/Pages/ tips_rid_your_community_mosquito_ breeding_sites.aspx. For more information about Zika virus disease, or visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/zika.
So get ready for summer, and be careful.