The Zika virus is a new United States health issue, equal parts mysterious and misunderstood. With roughly 20 travel-associated Florida patients, including three in Lee County, the State Department of Health declared a Public Health Emergency for every county with a diagnosed case. Each identified county was required to hold a meeting to detail steps to contain an outbreak. The Lee County Mosquito Control District held this on Monday, February 15, with T. Wayne Gale, the district’s executive director and Jennifer Roth, biological administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Lee County, the principle speakers.
Mosquitos, infected blood and sexual contact can transmit Zika. The World Health Organization declared an emergency after Brazilian babies were born with birth defects after their pregnant mothers contracted Zika. It recently spread to the Americas, and avoiding mosquito bites is the best defense. The virus usually lasts one week, with a quick recovery and no one in the U.S. yet requiring hospitalization or exhibiting long-term consequences. Once you get Zika you become immune, and 80% who catch it will not even know it because symptoms are generally so mild. There are no US issues involving pregnant women.
Gale stressed that none of Florida’s Zika cases originated in the US, but are in travelers who visited infected regions and did not get ill until their return. Fortunately for our residents, the Lee County Mosquito Control District, due to our subtropical and rainy weather, already has a proactive plan in place to control illnesses like Zika.
Lee County emphasizes early detection, appropriate response and public education. Ours is the only county in Florida with its own testing laboratory to attain same day readings to initiate immediate action, while all others must send theirs to the Tampa state lab and wait 4 to 5 days for results. Lee County Mosquito Control has traps in appropriate locations, and should it find Zika, will immediately initiate aerial and ground adulticide followed by aerial and ground larvicide to quickly knock down the adult population.
Aedes mosquitos are the type of mosquito that transmits Zika, and they differ from other species. While most thrive in woods or swamps, Aedes are common in residential areas, attracted to houseplants, artificial containers, standing water and birdbaths. They do not fly far, so if they are in one yard they will remain there or only venture a few properties over, making it extremely difficult to spread the virus. Once detected, Mosquito Control will inundate a half-square-mile radius several times over the immediate weeks to drop the population.
Michael Mills, director of Fort Myers Beach Mosquito Control, said his office monitors hot spots like artificial containers, tires, and drains these daily.
“Mosquito larvae cannot live without water, so if you dump it the air kills the larvae before they become adults. On Fort Myers Beach, we win the ground war before the war breaks out.”
Congressman Curt Clawson (R-FL19) commented from the audience that the Zika mosquito has a narrow band of existence, meaning you are more likely to get bit by one inside a non-air conditioned house during the day than in the woods, water, or any air conditioned facility. Mr. Gale concurred, adding that water that contains fish is a detriment to the virus because fish devour mosquitos.
Jennifer Roth explained that while Zika is new to the US, health experts identified it in 1947 in Uganda’s Zika Forest. There were just 15 cases worldwide until 2007, when it had a significant Southeast Asian outbreak. Incubation is 2 to 10 days, and only 20% who contract it will display symptoms, with few hospitalizations. The most common symptoms are a low-grade fever, rash, joint pain and red eyes. There currently is no vaccine or cure, just like the flu.
Ms. Roth said the high incidences of babies born in Brazil with abnormally small heads and brain damage, known as microcephaly, seems to occur to mothers infected while pregnant. There is not enough evidence to confirm this, but there is enough that, as a precaution, the US issued a “Travel Alert Level 2” recommending that pregnant women in any trimester avoid infected regions, and any woman who might become pregnant in these areas should consult her health care provider.
Public perception is crucial, Ms. Roth stressed, because the Florida Department of Health in Lee County fields numerous calls daily from people across the nation asking if they should cancel vacations. Once they learn Lee County has no cases of origin, most understand. Congressman Clawson said a person is 15-times more likely to catch Zika in non-air conditioned areas than those with air conditioning, and seasonal visitors and tourists stay in nice places with air conditioning, like resorts and rentals on Fort Myers Beach. Mr. Gale summarized the message: “When it comes to Zika, with our plan and precautions, we will all be fine!”
The Florida DOH recommends several steps to protect from mosquito bites: Wear repellant when outdoors, cover up with clothing, repair holes in screens and at least once a week, drain anything that holds water in your yard.
For further information see the CDC Zika webpage at www.cdc.gov/zika or the Florida Department of Health at www.floridahealth.gov. You can call the Florida Statewide Zika Virus Information Hotline at 855-622-6235, the Florida Department of Health in Lee County at 239-332-9580, or Fort Myers Beach Mosquito Control at 239-463-6350.