Health de­part­ment mon­i­tor­ing Zika buzz

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum -

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.

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