How Coloradans can prep for, prevent Zika infection
June 8, 2016
Summer's arrival each year means once again enjoying all of the outdoor benefits Summit County has to offer, but also comes with it the annual appearance of a nuisance pest: the mosquito.
As both coverage and concern over the potential spread of the Zika virus — a disease chiefly transmitted by an infected species of mosquito — to the United States grows, so, too, do questions about this new mystery ailment. Like the West Nile Virus and other vector-borne contagions before it, experts consistently note the importance of knowing the facts.
As of June 1, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 618 confirmed cases of Zika throughout the nation, year-to-date. In Colorado, just two cases have been discovered — and all of those in the United States were travel associated, with someone contracting it while in an affected region and then returning home.
The highest number of infections, according to the CDC data, have been found in New York (130), Florida (128), California (44) and Texas (36). Meanwhile, the U.S. Territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa have all displayed a number of cases from local mosquitos, with Puerto Rico reporting more than 1,000.
Of the approximately 3,000 types of mosquitos throughout the world, between about 150 and 175 live in the United States. The two species known for Zika transmission — the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus — are among them and verified in at least 30 states. The CDC reports that small pockets of the latter already reside in northeastern Colorado, though it has yet to reach the state's population centers.
According to Sara Lopez, a registered nurse with Summit County Public Health, the local elevations and climate cap these two strains' capacity for sustaining in the region. The conditions aren't conducive for their requirements to prosper.
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"(They) are not believed to have the ability to survive here," she recently explained. "Summit County's altitude and cold weather further limit the reach of many of these species."
The majority of individuals infected with Zika show no symptoms. Those who do, however, will experience fever, rash, joint pain and/or pinkeye, lasting upwards of a week.
The principal issue concerning Zika is for pregnant women due to the virus possibly causing a birth defect known as microcephaly, which hinders brain development of the child. Those affected babies are born with an abnormally small head.
Unlike previous diseases like it, known as arboviruses, Zika is communicable from an infected man to his sexual partners through his semen, where the virus is present longer than in the blood. The CDC is still investigating whether Zika can be transmitted through donated blood transfusions.
But because there are not yet any locally-acquired cases, the focus for Coloradans primarily shifts to prevention while abroad visiting other parts of the world where the virus was first identified in the mid-20th century. It was Zika's appearance in the Western Hemisphere in the early months of last year that has set off the domestic worries these past two summers.
Like West Nile — because there is presently no vaccine or treatment for Zika — people are instead encouraged to take the necessary precautions to dodge infection before it happens. Mosquitos thrive near standing water, so first and foremost, try to avoid these areas. The use of DEET insect repellents that are registered and proven effective through the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is also highly encouraged. And if using both sunscreen and a repellent, always apply the sunscreen first.
Dawn and dusk are the times in which mosquitos are typically most active, but, in fact, the CDC reports that the mosquitos that spread Zika actually bite mostly during the daytime. These same species are also capable of transmitting the dengue fever and chikungunya viruses.
Wearing long-sleeve shirts and long pants is a common course of action to prevent mosquito bites, as is the utilization of mosquito bed netting overseas when you sleep. Finally, pertaining to sexual contact while visiting an area known to have Zika: use latex condoms or abstain from sex altogether, particularly if the female partner of a heterosexual couple is pregnant.
"There are many unknowns surrounding Zika," said Lopez, "but the medical community is quickly learning more about this troubling disease. For the majority of people in Summit County, Zika is not a serious health threat."
For more information about the Zika virus, regions in the United States and around the world confirmed to possess it, or ways to prevent infection, visit the CDC's website at: http://www.cdc.gov/zika.