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Standard defenses can help prevent Zika virus spread

MSU Extension Service

RAYMOND, Miss. -- Zika virus is now among the list of mosquito-borne viruses Mississippians should guard against, but standard defenses can help prevent spread of the disease.

A suspected link between the infection and certain birth defects, including microcephaly, prompted the World Health Organization to declare a public health emergency of international concern on Feb. 1. Babies with microcephaly are born with smaller-than-usual heads due to interrupted brain development.

“No Zika virus cases have been reported in Mississippi,” said Wendy Varnado, an entomologist with the Mississippi State Department of Health. “But we are on the lookout. There is potential for the virus to spread because we do have confirmed cases of the virus in the United States and the types of mosquitoes that can carry the disease. People should take the standard precautionary steps to prevent mosquito bites.”

Jerome Goddard, an Extension professor of medical and veterinary entomology with Mississippi State University, said two types of mosquitoes can carry the Zika virus: Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus.

“Aedes albopictus is very common in Mississippi, but both types do occur here,” Goddard said.

Mosquitoes become infected after biting someone with the Zika virus. Infected mosquitoes can then pass the virus along to other people they bite, Goddard said.

Symptoms of Zika virus are usually mild and include fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. The illness lasts from several days to a week. However, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urge women who are pregnant or may become pregnant to avoid mosquito bites and postpone travel to areas with Zika virus activity.

“There are a few reports of the disease being transmitted through blood transfusions and sexual contact, but these instances are rare,” Goddard said. “This is a mosquito virus, and that's the main way it gets around.”

Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are active primarily during the day, but they can bite at night. These mosquitoes also can carry chikungunya and dengue.

“Mosquitoes are not active in the winter in northern parts of their range, such as north Mississippi. They won't be active around here until April or May,” said Goddard, whose office is located on the MSU campus in Starkville. “But along the Gulf Coast or in south Florida or south Texas, they may be active year-round.”

The best defense against mosquito-borne diseases is limiting mosquito populations and avoiding mosquito bites.

“It never hurts to be aware of mosquito breeding sites around a home, no matter the season, because mosquitoes can transmit several different diseases to humans and animals,” Goddard said. “Zika virus is just the latest one of these.”

People should inspect their property on a regular basis and remove any standing water, Goddard said. Common mosquito breeding areas include birdbaths, fountains, toys, clogged gutters, pet bowls, neglected pools, tire swings, open trash bins, potted plant saucers and low spots in the lawn.

“Mosquitoes can mature from egg to adult in eight to 10 days,” Goddard said. “People should be vigilant and walk around their property at least once a week to check for areas where mosquitoes can breed.”

Personal protection can help prevent bites, he said. Wear long sleeve shirts and long pants made of tightly woven fabric, and apply insect repellants containing DEET when outdoors. Always follow the product instructions when applying.

For more information about mosquito population control and personal protection, visit the MSU Extension Service website at extension.msstate.edu and download Extension Publication 2530, “Mosquitoes, West Nile and Other Encephalitis Viruses: What You Can Do to Protect Yourself”; Extension Publication 2336, “The Southern House Mosquito and Related Species: Biology and Control”; and Extension Information Sheet 1960, “Integrated Mosquito Management.”

For more information about the Zika virus, visit the Mississippi State Department of Health website at http://www.healthyms.com and click on “Zika Virus: Travel Alert” on the left. Also visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/zika and the World Health Organization website at http://bit.ly/1R2R6gM.

Released: February 5, 2016
Contacts: Dr. Jerome Goddard
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