Warm weather prompts fear of another spell of Zika

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

Ris­ing U.S. tem­per­a­tures are forc­ing fed­eral and state of­fi­cials to gird for yet another bout with Zika, the mos­quito-borne dis­ease that trig­gered un­prece­dented travel warn­ings to preg­nant women and sent sales of bug-re­pel­lent soar­ing be­fore fad­ing from view over the win­ter.

After dire warn­ings from some quar­ters last year, the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion says it won’t try to guess how many cases the U.S. will see this year, though the agency says “small pock­ets of trans­mis­sion” sim­i­lar to the flare-ups in Florida and Texas last year are likely.

The agency said its warn­ing about fu­ture trans­mis­sion isn’t lim­ited to those two states, how­ever, since Zika’s main vec­tor — the Aedes ae­gypti mos­quito — roams be­yond their borders, reach­ing most of the south­ern U.S.

“Mos­quito-borne dis­ease out­breaks are dif­fi­cult to pre­dict,” CDC spokesman Ben­jamin Haynes said. “There will be fu­ture out­breaks, in­clud­ing large ones, as well as years with re­duced trans­mis­sion, but it is im­pos­si­ble to know when or where these trans­mis­sion pat­terns will oc­cur.”

States that com­bat­ted Zika first­hand in 2016 have been par­tic­u­larly vo­cal about lever­ag­ing avail­able re­sources to beat back the dis­ease this

time around.

Health of­fi­cials in Texas this month said preg­nant women in six coun­ties near the Mex­i­can bor­der should be tested for the virus dur­ing their first and sec­ond trimesters, even if they haven’t trav­eled to a Zika-af­fected area abroad or ex­pe­ri­enced symp­toms. Pre­vi­ously, the state only ad­vised preg­nant women in the town of Brownsville to get tested no mat­ter what.

It also said any­one in those coun­ties should now get tested if they have a rash or at least one other Zika symp­tom, such as fever, joint pain or red eyes, say­ing new fund­ing from Congress helped them boost their lab ca­pac­ity and surveil­lance in 2017.

“Zika re­mains a sig­nif­i­cant health risk to preg­nant women and their ba­bies, and it’s only a mat­ter of time un­til we see lo­cal trans­mis­sion here again,” Com­mis­sioner John Heller­st­edt said. “We want to cast as wide a net as pos­si­ble with test­ing to in­crease our abil­ity to find and re­spond to cases, and the Lower Rio Grande Val­ley re­mains the part of the state most at risk for Zika trans­mis­sion.”

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott is con­duct­ing round­tables to alert county of­fi­cials to state re­sources and make sure the virus is “top of mind” as another sum­mer ap­proaches.

New fed­eral fund­ing and sci­en­tific ad­vances al­lowed the state to ex­pand its lab ca­pac­ity and test for Zika in a way that clearly sep­a­rates it from re­lated viruses, the state health depart­ment said.

Zika was a rel­a­tively ob­scure virus be­fore it hop­scotched to the Amer­i­cas in 2015 and burst into the head­lines early last year, when sci­en­tists found an un­prece­dented link be­tween an in­sect-borne dis­ease and birth de­fects. The most rec­og­niz­able one is mi­cro­cephaly, in which in­fants have ab­nor­mally small heads.

A bit­ter dis­pute over fed­eral fund­ing to com­bat the dis­ease gen­er­ated even more head­lines be­fore Congress ral­lied around a $1.1-bil­lion fund late last year, just about the time that an in­tense pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and drop­ping tem­per­a­tures pushed the Zika threat off the front pages.

But spring has sprung again, and of­fi­cials are warn­ing preg­nant women and oth­ers to cover up, use bugspray and toss stand­ing wa­ter from flower pots, bird baths and other ar­eas where mos­qui­tos can breed.

The CDC ex­pects fewer cases in Puerto Rico this year, but only be­cause the is­land was hit so hard last year, mean­ing a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion will have de­vel­oped im­mu­nity from in­fec­tion.

The con­se­quences of in­fec­tion can be par­tic­u­larly se­vere for preg­nant women, no mat­ter where they’re bit­ten.

A re­cent CDC re­port said women with sus­pected cases of Zika had a 5 per­cent rate of virus-spawned birth de­fects, while those with lab-con­firmed cases showed a 10 per­cent rate.

The moth­ers of all 51 ba­bies with birth de­fects were in­fected out­side of the U.S., as Zika largely re­mains a travel-re­lated dis­ease in the states.

Roughly 4,900 peo­ple have re­turned to the con­ti­nen­tal U.S. with in­fec­tions they picked up abroad, with about 400 of those cases ar­riv­ing this year, ac­cord­ing to CDC fig­ures.

Florida of­fi­cials said it is crit­i­cal for trav­el­ers to pre­vent mos­quito bites for at least three weeks after re­turn­ing from a Zika-af­fected area.

“If you trav­eled to an area with Zika, you could have be­come in­fected and not know it, and you could spread the virus in your com­mu­nity if you do not take proper pre­cau­tions against mos­quito bites after you re­turn home,” said Mara Gam­bineri, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Depart­ment.

She said travel-re­lated cases are down over­all so far in 2017 — about 30 com­pared to 70 at this point last year.

Florida of­fi­cials hope that means their mes­sage is get­ting through, though the epi­demic has lev­eled off from its peaks in Cen­tral Amer­ica, South Amer­ica and the Caribbean in early-to-mid 2016.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion and CDC are try­ing to avoid com­pla­cency for now, not­ing lo­cal trans­mis­sion of Zika has hit dozens of coun­tries since 2015.

“Although the Zika virus epi­demic in the Amer­i­cas has de­creased in in­ten­sity, it re­mains a global threat,” Mr. Haynes said. “There con­tin­ues to be Zika trans­mis­sion in many coun­tries. Be­cause large out­breaks could re­cur, and be­cause of the sever­ity of Zika virus-associated com­pli­ca­tions, coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries in the Amer­i­cas and other re­gions where the mos­qui­toes that can spread Zika are present should main­tain surveil­lance for Zika virus in­fec­tion and its com­pli­ca­tions, strengthen ca­pac­ity for lab­o­ra­tory di­ag­no­sis of Zika virus and con­tinue to im­ple­ment pre­ven­tion and con­trol mea­sures.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion is wor­ried that un­sea­son­ably warm spring tem­per­a­tures may spawn ex­tra Zika-spreak­ing mos­qui­toes this sum­mer.

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