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Extension assumes role in Zika response
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Mississippi State University Extension Service entomologists and others are scouring the state for the mosquito species that carry the Zika virus.
Jerome Goddard, Extension entomology professor, said only two mosquito species are considered vectors of the Zika virus. The main carrier is Aedes aegypi. This species and its close cousin, Aedes albopictus, primarily bite during the daytime.
“Both of those species can be vectors for Zika, but aegypi is the more common carrier,” Goddard said. “We believe they were displaced in Mississippi by other mosquito species in the late 1980s or early 1990s. We know they are still in Louisiana, but, so far, not in Mississippi.”
Goddard oversees part of a grant from the Mississippi State Department of Health. MSU field personnel are collecting mosquito larvae in the state’s 41 northern counties.
“The health department is also searching in the 17 middle counties, and the University of Southern Mississippi has the rest of the southern counties,” he said. “We are documenting all the species we find. With about 60 mosquito species in the state, finding the most common Zika vector, Aedes aegypi, will not be easy, but it will be key to the state’s response.”
Goddard said female mosquitoes contract the virus when they bite infected people and then spread it to other individuals. People also can spread the virus directly to others through sexual activity.
Extension health specialist David Buys said most people with Zika never know they have it or that they may contribute to the spread of the virus.
“Only two out of 10 infected people show Zika symptoms, which may include fever, rash, joint pain or red eyes. These symptoms are usually very mild and do not require medical attention,” Buys said. “The biggest concern is for pregnant women, specifically for their unborn babies.”
Buys said babies from infected mothers could have severe or fatal birth defects, including stillbirth, brain damage, neurological disorders, and vision and hearing problems. Women who are or may become pregnant should avoid Zika-affected areas. A complete list can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, along with other Zika details.
“People returning from infected areas need to be especially careful to avoid being bitten locally,” Buys said. “Pregnant women should keep their medical providers informed of any symptoms or known exposures they encounter.”
Goddard said locating the Zika-carrying species is the pillar for response.
“These species are unlike the Culex mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus. For example, aegypi prefer to reproduce in artificial containers such as pots, birdbaths and flower urns,” he said. “Culex mosquitoes primarily bite at night and tend to breed in ditches and pools of stagnant water.”
Goddard said spray equipment is effective for controlling Culex mosquitoes but not the species that carry Zika.
“The answer for Zika control is door-to-door education with a tip-and-toss message. Hand foggers have been shown to be effective, too,” he said. “Those sorts of alerts will increase once we have found areas with these mosquitoes.”